The Kenai River supports Alaska’s largest fisheries for king, red and silver salmon. Beginning in the Chugach Mountains, the 80-mile waterway flows west, winding through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Skilak Lake and ending where it meets the waters of Cook Inlet on the Kenai Peninsula. Approximately 7 percent of the banks of the lower and middle Kenai River are held as private property by CIRI. These streambanks have been treated as public lands for many years, largely due to trespassers’ lack of knowledge of property ownership along the river, too few signs notifying the public of land-ownership status (and the illegal removal of existing signs) and inadequate enforcement procedures.
Residents along the Kenai River, as well as officials from Alaska State Parks, various trade and industry groups and law enforcement, have shared CIRI’s concerns over the impacts of trespassing. In 2017, CIRI began granting members of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association (KRPGA) non-exclusive access to its lands. In exchange, KRPGA members offered their cooperation in reporting trespass.
“In the short time KRPGA has been reporting trespass activity on CIRI land, we’ve noticed a huge positive difference,” said Ben Mohr, surface estate manager for CIRI’s Land and Resources division. “For a nominal fee each year, we permit KRPGA guides to access our river banks. In return, we’re generating a small revenue stream and the guides are letting us know when and where trespass activities occur. Fishing guides have a self-interest in preserving our lands; it makes sense to work with people who share our values.”
When it comes to managing its lands, CIRI abides by a philosophy that strikes a balance between sustainably developing resources to generate income for shareholders and protecting lands for future generations. “We’re committed to preserving CIRI’s lands as a heritage asset. And we recognize that CIRI shareholders and countless others have relied on the Kenai River for generations – returning to the same places year after year, valuing the land and using it to feed their families and teaching their children to also be responsible stewards of the land. That’s a big reason we decided to keep the banks open. Also, if people are going to use land anyway, it’s best to have regulations in place.”
Another level of protection is being rolled out this summer. The Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA), a nonprofit that advocates for fisheries conservation in Alaska, will assist CIRI in issuing permits to membeers of the general public who wish to access CIRI lands along the Kenai River for the purpose of sportfishing.
“In years past, CIRI took permit requests through its website. Last year, we fielded more than 200 requests for folks wanting access to CIRI land along the Kenai River, which ate up way too much staff time,” Mohr said. “This year, we’re going with hardcopy permits and boat stickers.
“The boat stickers will help with enforcement,” Mohr explained. “Anyone will immediately be able to tell if someone is approved to access CIRI land based on whether he or she has a boat sticker. It’s a way of crowdsourcing enforcement. We’ve seen a positive shift just over the last year in the way our lands are being treated because people know we’re paying attention.”
“The Kenai River Sportfishing Association is excited to partner with CIRI in distribution of its land-use permits for Kenai River anglers,” said KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease. “We both believe that fostering a community of stewardship is a key component of sustainable fisheries. When people come into our office for a permit, we can reinforce the message to tread lightly while fishing so that this resource is here for generations to come.”
Anyone wishing to apply for a permit to access CIRI land for sportfishing purposes can do so in person at one of two locations:
725 East Fireweed Lane, Anchorage
Kenai River Sportfishing Association
35093 Kenai Spur Highway, Soldotna
There are a limited number of permits available on a first come, first served basis. There is no application fee and permits are issued free of charge. Post-activity reports are required to be submitted for every person with a CIRI land use permit, and may be submitted online at www.ciri.com/permitting.