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State Defends Rights-of-Way in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve

Dec 2, 2022

This week, the State of Alaska advanced Governor Mike Dunleavy’s statehood defense effort by filing a 180-day legal notice of its intent to sue the federal government over 10 State-owned rights-of-way within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

Once filed, this quiet title litigation will focus on an efficient approach toward confirming State ownership of 500 linear miles of historically documented rights-of-way in the Interior. The action defends the State’s position that these easements were granted to the State by the homesteading-era federal Revised Statute 2477 or “RS 2477.” That law is self-executing, so the State automatically gained easements when these public trails were established across public lands. From small trails to major roadways, RS 2477 rights-of-way comprise a large part of Alaska’s transportation network. Indeed, the Dalton Highway, Farmers Loop Road in Fairbanks, the Iditarod Trail are a few of the hundreds of codified State RS 2477 routes that were created under this law.

Multiple State efforts have coalesced under Governor Dunleavy’s Unlocking Alaska Initiative, launched in early 2021. Under the Initiative, the Departments of Natural Resources and Law have redoubled efforts to ensure that public access to Alaska’s lands and natural resources is recognized by the federal government, be it access via State-owned rights-of-way or by State-owned submerged lands.

“I will continue to fight for Alaskans to have full access to our lands and water bodies, and for the State to manage all submerged lands that were granted to us 63 years ago,” said Governor Dunleavy. “This is the promise that was made to Alaska at statehood in 1959. Alaskans deserve better.”

The Yukon-Charley Rivers notice represents the State’s first attempt to tackle rights-of-way in an entire conservation system unit, instead of focusing on individual roads on a smaller scale. “Lawsuits are historically expensive, time-consuming, and concerned with isolated rights-of-way instead of a more holistic approach to regional transportation networks,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “We want to work with the federal government to improve these processes rather than litigate mile-by-mile.”

Alaska resident John Sturgeon took his fight for access on navigable State waterways to the U.S. Supreme Court in this same region and won – twice. “I applaud and endorse Alaska’s efforts to quiet title to its land-based network of RS 2477 rights-of-way within the Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve. Such routes often provide the only available land-based public access to many parts of the State and are vital to Alaskans. They connect all of us to the vast resources of our State; to the communities and places we need to access; and to the people we need to see. Alaska’s intended quiet title litigation will advance and support the public access that is vital to all of us.”

Current Quiet Title Act cases against the federal government include litigation concerning several RS 2477 trails in the Chicken area, and navigability cases involving the North Fork of the Fortymile River, Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River, Bettles River, Dietrich River, Mulchatna River, Chilikadrotna River, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Lake, Mendenhall River, and Mendenhall Lake.