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Alaska Land Use Planning (1-AK-a)

The state of Alaska uses the land use planning process for managing resources on state-owned lands. Article VIII, section 4 of the Constitution of Alaska requires that the renewable natural resources of Alaska should be utilized, developed, and maintained based on a sustained yield principle. Alaska Statute 38.04.005 requires the state “to plan and manage state-owned land to establish a balanced combination of land available for both public and private purposes.” Land availability is determined through the land use planning process which requires inventory, planning, and classification of uses as set out in AS 38.04.060 to 38.04.070. The Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) (Commissioner), the Director, and the Resource Assessment & Development Section of the Division of Mining, Land and Water have primary responsibility for land use planning. While no statutes or regulations mandate the exact planning process, there are statutes and regulations that require specific procedures occur throughout the planning process. The DNR follows a generalized process for adopting land use plans (outlined below). This process integrates public and agency participation, in the form of comments accepted throughout the process, to identify issues and concerns, evaluate inventory and alternatives, and review the draft and final plans. Under 11 AAC 55.030(f)(1), this general process is the same for plan revisions.

Land Use Planning Process

1-AK-a.1 - Public Notice

AS 38.04.065 requires that the Commissioner adopt, maintain, and when appropriate, revise regional land use plans that provide for the use and management of state-owned land. The planning process is designed to provide a link between the citizens and the agencies responsible for managing state land that has not been reserved or withdrawn from multiple use management, also called the public domain land. 11 AAC 55.020(b) ensures meaningful participation in the planning process by affected local governments, state and federal agencies, adjacent landowners, and the general public. Under AS 38.04.065(a), public involvement requires the DNR to issue notice under AS 38.05.945.

The DNR publishes public notices online at http://dnr.alaska.gov/commis/pic/pubnotfrm.htm.

1-AK-a.2 – Identify Issues and Concerns in Planning Area

The first step in the planning process is to determine which areas in the state need to have old plans revised or a new plan created. During the early stages of the planning process, the primary function of public and agency involvement is to identify issues and concerns within the planning area, important resources, and land use potential. The purpose of public and agency involvement is to gather information and input about the issues and then focus the planning efforts on these issues.

1-AK-a.3 - Gather Information About Land, Economy, and Resources

An integral part of the planning process is gathering of information about the natural resources, past and present land use, land ownership, and the local economy within the plan area. This information gathering process is ongoing and is completed simultaneously with the scoping process. Under AS 38.04.060, the DNR is required to prepare and maintain current statewide inventory of all state land and water for resources and other values.

1-AK-a.4 - Prepare and Evaluate Land Use Alternatives

After identifying issues and concerns, the planning team evaluates possible choices for managing state land based on public interests, local resources, and state policies. Whenever possible, guidelines are established to allow for multiple uses. Each adopted land use plan must be consistent with relevant municipal land use plans to the maximum extent determined consistent with state and public interests. Where irreconcilable conflicts exist, alternatives are developed and evaluated.

During this part of the planning process, all resources are considered and evaluated. For each choice, the possible effects on the management goals are described. Under AS 38.05.300, the Commissioner must classify for surface use land in areas considered necessary and proper; this does not prevent reclassification of land where the public interest warrants reclassification. Under AS 38.04.005(b), when classifying or reclassifying land, the natural resources and conditions present are evaluated to minimize adverse effects of private settlement on wildlife, fish, mineral, timber, and other significant resources of the land.

As stated in AS 38.04.015, lands are retained “to make them available on a sustained-yield basis for a variety of beneficial uses including subsistence, energy development, aquaculture, forestry, grazing, sport hunting and fishing, hiking, snowmobiling, skiing, and similar activities which can generally be made available to more people and conducted more successfully if the land is in public rather than private ownership.” State land is also retained to facilitate mining and mineral leasing by managing appropriate public land for surface uses which are compatible with subsurface uses. When land is classified for uses and purposes involving retention, they may be considered for the management categories under AS 38.04.070. These categories include:

  • State public reserve land
  • State parks
  • State trails
  • Wild and scenic rivers
  • State public domain

State public domain land classified as settlement by the DNR in a regional plan may be made available for development. Surface resource classifications under 11 AAC 55.040 include agriculture, coal, forest, geothermal, grazing, heritage resources, material, mineral, oil and gas, public recreation, reserved use, resource management, settlement, transportation corridor, water resources, and wildlife habitat land. Classification might reflect the surface impacts of surface or subsurface uses, or both. Classifications may identify both primary and secondary uses for which the land will be managed. In addition, the DNR may authorize other uses that do not conflict with the plan. On any parcel of land, up to three classifications may be used where the dominance of a particular use cannot be determined. Under 11 AAC 55.075, “land classified geothermal is land where known geothermal resources exist and where development is occurring or is reasonably likely to occur, or where there is reason to believe commercial quantities of geothermal resources exist.”

Under AS 38.05.300, “if the area involved contains more than 640 contiguous acres, state land, water, or land and water area may not, except by act of the state legislature, be closed to multiple purpose use, or be otherwise classified…so that mining, mineral entry or location, mineral prospecting, or mineral leasing is precluded or is designated an incompatible use, except when the classification is necessary for a land disposal or exchange or is for the development of utility or transportation corridors or projects or similar projects or infrastructure.” If the DNR determines it necessary and proper, it may order an interim classification precluding mineral leasing. However, within 10 days after the convening of regular legislative session, DNR must transmit the classification to the legislature for consideration.

1-AK-a.5 - Prepare Draft Plan

The DNR creates a draft plan that reflects resource values as well as public and agency goals. Participating agencies review the first draft and settle any land use conflicts that remain, or propose the best alternatives for public review. Land use plans incorporate management objectives and may contain guidelines to resolve conflicts among competing land uses. Under 11 AAC 55.030 area plans must contain the following:

  • A summary of existing land uses and ownership patterns within the planning boundaries;
  • A discussion of resource potential and land uses on state lands and water within the planning boundaries;
  • Goals and objectives for each resource in the planning area;
  • Land classifications that set out primary uses and that may be supplemented by identifying secondary uses; with a land classification, the DNR will include
    • A statement whether the land is to be disposed of in fee or retained in state ownership; and
    • For land to be retained in state ownership, a statement as to whether the land is to be made available for lease or other less-than-fee disposal, timber sale, or material sale;
    • Consideration of mineral potential to include, at a minimum, identification of areas that will be closed to mineral entry or restricted to leasehold locations under the criteria set out in AS 38.05.185, existing or potential conflicts and, if mineral leasing is intended, stipulations for future leases; and
  • Management guidelines and stated management intent, representing DNR policies to guide the actions of the DNR when making land use decisions, directing land management and ensuring compatibility among competing land uses.

1-AK-a.6 - Review of Draft Plan by Public

The DNR holds public meetings to provide the public with the opportunity to comment on the draft plan and to identify necessary changes. As it does throughout the land use planning process, during this time DNR accepts written public comments.

1-AK-a.7 - Prepare Final Plan

The DNR reviews agency and public comments, and revise the plan in preparation for final publication. The final product of the planning process is a document that describes intended uses of state lands. Final area plans contains management guidelines and classifications for specific management units as well as allocate for the use of state land through plan designations. This document also identifies land to be retained by the state and what land may be sold or granted to municipalities through the municipal entitlement process. Final area plans provide detailed guidance for areas or specific resources; they may recommend legislative designations as well. These plans may establish section priorities or special land use designations. In addition, they may be associated with a mineral order, either opening or closing lands to mineral entry.

1-AK-a.8 to 1-AK-a.12 - Approve Plan

The Commissioner approves and sign finalized land use plans. Once the plan has been signed by the Commissioner, public notice is issued in accordance to AS 38.05.945 which requires notice for new land classifications, mineral opening or closing orders, and oil and gas leases. This provides notice of the 30-day public comment period that commences after signing. Under 11 AAC 02.010-02.040, eligible affected stakeholders are allowed to appeal any decision of the DNR or request that it be reconsidered. If no requests for reconsideration are filed or the Commissioner chooses not to reconsider the decision, the signed plan goes into effect on the 31st day after the date of issuance and can move into the implementation phase of the planning process.

1-AK-a.13 – State Land Use Plan

Approved land use plans guide management decisions for state lands within the planning area. Two types of state land use plans might govern geothermal development on state-owned land: an area plan or a management plan. These plans apply only to state-owned lands. Area plans usually cover large areas. Area plans establish goals, policies, management intent, guidelines for recommendations to retain or sell land, open or close areas to mineral entry, establish selection priorities or special land use designations, and recommend legislative designations. These plans must consider, identify, and delineate renewable resource development (See 11 AAC 55.030(c)).

Management plans provide more detailed guidance for special areas, such as parks, or for specific resources, like forestry, within a region or sub-region. Management plans identify planned actions, detailed site planning, management guidelines, implementation work plans, and information about resources, constraints, and management decisions (See 11 AAC 55.030(d)).

The DNR maintains a list of (1) plans currently under development; (2) future planning projects; and (3) adopted area and management plans. These are available at http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/planning/#CURRENT.

In addition, the DNR provides access to its Land Records search portal allowing users to locate, research, and verify ownership, land use, and authorizations on state land and water owned or managed by the State of Alaska, available at http://dnr.alaska.gov/landrecords/.

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