FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: AUG. 21, 2020, JUNEAU, ALASKA — Today the Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision that forces the State of Alaska to live up to the law by managing approximately 3,400 acres of state land in Kuiu Island’s No Name Bay for wildlife conservation values.
This favorable decision for SEACC ends a seven-year legal dispute between the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) and the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority (Mental Health Trust).
SEACC’s lawsuit alleged that the State violated the legislative and judicial settlements reached following a 1994 class action lawsuit filed by beneficiaries of the Mental Health Trust, after the State breached the Trust. A list of agreed-upon lands were identified to help reconstitute the Trust, and in that process it was agreed that the lands around No Name Bay would not be included, and would instead be managed by the State for “wildlife habitat purposes.” Following that agreement, sometime before 2009, Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources violated related legislation by secretly working with the federal government to convert the lands around No Name Bay to a Mental Health Act selection without any prior public notice, which put No Name Bay in imminent danger of being clearcut.
Meredith Trainor, SEACC Executive Director stated, “Our victory today assures long-term protection for critical wildlife habitat in and around No Name Bay, and, importantly, holds the state and Mental Health Trust to their longstanding agreements around the management of lands in which all Southeast Alaskans have a stake. No Name Bay offers important access to Kuiu Island for Southeast Alaskans who hunt, fish, and recreate there. It also provides key habitat for wildlife including deer, marten, otter, wolf, black bear, migratory waterfowl, and has several anadromous fish streams. Alaskans deserved the right to have input on any action by DNR to change the status of these lands. The decision today supports that conclusion.”
Tom Meacham, an Anchorage attorney who has represented SEACC pro bono over the many years of this case, said: “We are gratified to receive confirmation of the importance our Supreme Court attaches to the Alaska Constitution's Prior Public Notice requirement, and to see that when the State participates in broad legislative settlements of state land disputes such as the Weiss Mental Health litigation, the terms of the settlements will continue to be upheld, even decades later.”
In 2017, four years after SEACC first sued the State over No Name Bay, the Mental Health Trust proposed exchanging No Name Bay and other high value lands in Southeast Alaska with the Forest Service in exchange for Tongass National Forest lands.
“The decision today does not provide explicit direction on whether the No Name Bay lands should eventually be managed by the Forest Service,” said Sally Schlichting, SEACC’s Environmental Policy Analyst, “so SEACC looks forward to working with the Department of Natural Resources, the Mental Health Trust, and the Forest Service to discuss acceptable next steps in light of this favorable Supreme Court decision. Should the Forest Service eventually be able to acquire the No Name Bay lands, they must be managed to preserve their undeveloped natural character and associated wildlife, watershed and scenic values.”
For more information, contact Meredith Trainor at Meredith@seacc.org or call 907-957-8347.