Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is taking action to give the state stronger control over its own destiny in the face of federal overreach into the affairs of the state, with a focus on Alaska’s lands and natural resources.
In a March 26 letter to President Joe Biden, Dunleavy put the administration on notice, affirming the State’s ownership of the more than 800,000 miles of navigable rivers and 30 million acres of navigable lakes in Alaska and asserting the right to manage these areas for the benefit of Alaskans.
“After 62 years of federal delay and obstruction, the State of Alaska is asserting its management rights over the vast network of navigable waters and submerged lands it received at statehood and will move aggressively to promote their use and enjoyment to serve the interests of the Alaska people,” Dunleavy said.
The action was based on Alaska’s sovereignty, supported by recent state and federal court decisions, including the 2019 unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost.
Under the U.S. Constitution and the Alaska Statehood Act, the State of Alaska assumed ownership and control of navigable waters and the underlying submerged land immediately upon statehood, with the right to access navigable waters affirmed in the State Constitution.
“Alaska’s destiny lies in full ownership of and access to our natural resources,” Dunleavy said in a press conference announcing the action. “These actions are a first step in ‘Unlocking Alaska’ - an initiative that I will continue to advance in the coming months. My administration will not rest until Alaska has achieved the foundational promises of statehood, and every Alaskan is granted unfettered access to our lands and waters.”
Dunleavy also released his “Unlocking Alaska Initiative,” a blueprint to expand public access to Alaska’s lands and natural resources, and to dramatically improve the efficiency of state and federal processes for managing lands.
The initiative said that uses allowed on state waters but restricted by federal regulations will be allowed in the state-owned navigable waters, subject to state permitting as applicable.
Dunleavy has asked Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige to meet with federal leaders to discuss how to coordinate state and federal management.
DNR will make an updated, comprehensive submerged lands layer in the state navigable waters map available to Alaskans and the public, and DNR leaders will communicate with Alaska-based federal officials to coordinate state and federal management, the initiative said.
“We at DNR have worked with our federal counterparts for many years to secure quiet title to Alaska’s submerged lands beneath navigable waters,” Feige said. “Unfortunately, our good faith efforts have been met with delay, denial, and resistance that have cost the state time and money, and further deprived many Alaskans of the opportunity to enjoy their statehood birthright.”