State pushes for university land grant transfer

Where the lands are remains to be determined

State officials are trying to facilitate the transfer of federal lands to the University of Alaska but where those lands are hasn’t yet been determined. What is known is the lands will be drawn from the state’s allotment of federal lands granted to it under statehood, seen here in this July 30, 2020 Bureau of Land Management map. (Courtesy Image / U.S. Bureau of Land Management)

State officials are trying to facilitate the transfer of federal lands to the University of Alaska but where those lands are hasn’t yet been determined. What is known is the lands will be drawn from the state’s allotment of federal lands granted to it under statehood, seen here in this July 30, 2020 Bureau of Land Management map. (Courtesy Image / U.S. Bureau of Land Management)

Alaska’s elected officials are making a strong push for the federal government to turn over hundreds of thousands of acres to the University of Alaska for economic development, but the exact location of that land is still being determined.

Alaska’s congressional delegation submitted bills on April 15 that would establish a program within the U.S. Department of the Interior to fulfill the state’s land grant obligation. The act would establish the university as a land grant university, “with holdings sufficient to facilitate operation and maintenance of a university system for the State of Alaska.”

That means the university is looking for land to develop for economic use, said Ed Fogels, a private consultant hired by the state to help select the land. Fogels, a former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, told the Empire in an interview that his team has identified 250,000 potential acres for university development, but the process for obtaining the land was a lengthy one.

The university is still owed roughly 360,000 acres promised to it before statehood, according to UA’s Land Grant website. UA owns about 150,700 acres, the website says, 12,000 of which has been designated educational properties like the university campuses themselves and research stations. Since 1987, UA’s land and resource sales have generated $211 million, according to UA.

[University of Alaska looks to a post-pandemic future]

Money generated by the land currently goes into a fund managed by the school’s investment arm, the University of Alaska Foundation, which runs initiatives such as the Alaska Scholars Program, which provides scholarship money to Alaska students.

We don’t have specific lands that we can show the public yet, we’re still trying to work toward that,” Fogels said. “It’s a slow iterative process.”

Fogels said he and his team review state land records and identify land that could potentially be developed for an economic purpose. In Alaska, that typically means resource development. Land selected by Fogels and his team are submitted to DNR, he said, which reviews them and determines if that land has an overwhelming public value.

The primary reason (for the land grants) is to generate revenue,” Fogels said. “Revenues generated on these lands will go to the university.”

According to the UA Land Management report, lands owned by the university generated roughly $6.8 million in Fiscal Year 2020. Lands owned by UA are currently being used to harvest timber, gravel, coal and oil and gas, according to the report.

If the land is approved by DNR, it will have to be formally conveyed to the state by the Department of the Interior, Fogels said. The Alaska delegation’s bill would create a program to facilitate the transfer, and would give the state two years to identify lands to request.

The Alaska State Legislature recently passed a joint statement urging the Congressional delegation, the U.S. Department of the Interior and Gov. Mike Dunleavy to facilitate the transfer of the land. But this is not the first time this bill has been submitted to Congress. The bill submitted by the delegation in mid-April was a duplicate of legislation from past sessions.

The process is long, Fogels said, but the intent is to secure the economic viability of Alaska’s university and make the school less dependent on state revenue.

The university system has faced drastic budget cuts under Dunleavy’s administration, agreeing to reduce its overall budget by $70 million over three years before further losses were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This isn’t a get rich overnight effort, this is for the long term,” Fogels said. “We want a strong university system in this state. This will ensure the University of Alaska can do its job effectively for 10, 20, 30, 100 years.”

Contact reporter Peter Segall at Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Snow falls atop the Central Peninsula Diabetes Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. The office opened in October, but a grand opening was held this week. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Central Peninsula Hospital adds Diabetes Center

The center has been seeing patients since October and held a grand opening Monday

Gary Hollier pulls a sockeye salmon from a set gillnet at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Findings from pilot setnet fishery study inconclusive

The study sought to see whether shorter nets could selectively catch sockeye salmon while allowing king salmon to pass below

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Kenai Peninsula COVID-19 case rate continues to climb

State reports three consecutive week-over-week increases to new high

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola delivers her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday, in Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Peltola celebrates federal intervention in Albertsons, Kroger merger in legislative address

The one-term lawmaker said collaboration between stakeholders has helped produce wins for Alaska’s fisheries and the state’s economy

From left: Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, and Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, speak during an at-ease on debate on education legislation on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate concurs on House education bill, Dunleavy is skeptical

The governor’s office announced Dunleavy will hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage to discuss the legislation

Most Read