CIRI partners with KRSA for land access on Kenai River

Anglers on the middle and lower Kenai River who want to fish from Cook Inlet Region, Inc.’s private banks can pick up permits from a new spot this summer — the Kenai River Sportfishing Association’s office in Soldotna.

Alaska Native corporation Cook Inlet Region, Inc. is changing the process for getting permits to access its lands for angling along the Kenai River. The corporation owns about 7 percent of the land along the Kenai River between Skilak Lake and the mouth, and since last summer has increased efforts to restrict trespassing by putting up “No trespassing” signs and requiring permits to use the land.

This year, the corporation is partnering with the nonprofit Kenai River Sportfishing Association to help issue permits to recreational anglers to use the land. The Kenai River Sportfishing Association has a history of working to protect riverbank habitat, said CIRI Surface Estate Manager Ben Mohr. CIRI similarly partners with the Kenai River Professional Guides Association to grant its members non-exclusive access in exchange for guides’ cooperation in reporting trespassers.

“(For land administration partnerships) we’re looking for entities that have similar interests in our properties or the health of the ecosystem,” Mohr said. “(The Kenai River Sportfishing Association) has been very active. In a similar way, we’re partnered with the KRPGA. Those entities have a self-interest in wanting to preserve that property. I know they’re going to pick up after themselves. I know they’re going to respect the property.”

Bank fishing is popular on the Kenai River, the most heavily used river for sportfishing in Alaska, particularly during the sockeye salmon season in July and August. Cook Inlet Region, Inc. owns a number of undeveloped parcels along the river and has had issues with trespassing and habitat destruction in the past. In 2017, the corporation undertook a major effort to replace “No trespassing” signs that had been damaged or torn down over the years and to tell the public they needed to get permits to use the land. The permits are free but the corporation wants people to get permits and submit a post-activity report online.

Last year, Cook Inlet Region, Inc. staff received more than 200 requests for permits online, which eats up staff time, Mohr said. This year, the corporation is going with hard copy permits and boat stickers.

Since replacing the signs and increasing enforcement last year, the corporation has seen improvement with how the lands are being treated, Mohr said.

“We have seen people taking better care of the land, and leaving less litter and trash and generally taking better care of the property,” he said.

Cook Inlet Region, Inc. staff will also be out doing enforcement for trespassers, checking boat stickers and on activities, he said. Though many people are now obtaining permits, there are others who are still trespassing, he said.

The corporation doesn’t want to block access, though they can deny permits if they so choose and there are still certain behavior expectations for those who have permits, Mohr said. The corporation manages land for two primary goals: increasing shareholder value and preserving them as a heritage asset. They want to keep the lands open for use but still protect them for the future, he said.

“Our shareholders and their ancestors have utilized this river for countless generations to feed their families,” he said. “That’s what Alaskan anglers are doing.”

Permits can be obtained in person at Cook Inlet Region, Inc.’s offices at 725 E. Fireweed Lane in Anchorage or at the Kenai River Sportfishing Association’s office at 35093 Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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