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BLM grants Alaska $5 million for wildland waterway restoration

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Mark Moran

(Alaska News Service) The Bureau of Land Management has announced a $161 million investment in habitat and wildland restoration projects in 11 western states.

Alaska is scheduled to receive $5 million for the Birch Creek and Fortymile Wild and Scenic Rivers, two of the state's most iconic recreational waterways.

Birch Creek is a 150-mile tributary of the Yukon River, popular with whitewater rafters for its challenging, multiday excursions. Fortymile River is almost 400 miles of creeks and rivers in east-central Alaska, the longest system within the National Wild and Scenic Rivers network.

Joel Webster, vice president of western conservation for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said while not as large as BLM projects in other states, the money is critical.

"It's really about restoring impact from mining activity," Webster explained. "There's important salmon habitat in that landscape; landscape-level restoration, focused on cleaning up historic mining damage."

The BLM is investing more than $2 billion to restore public lands and waters across the United States, with an eye toward meeting conservation goals established in the America the Beautiful initiative.

At $27 million, Montana got the largest infusion of cash for three projects in that state, but even at $5 million, the investment is significant for Alaska, Webster acknowledged. He added the region as a whole will benefit from getting some of the habitat restoration it needs.

"You know, our federal land management agencies have been underfunded for a long time," Webster pointed out. "And to have this injection of cash and money to put on the ground, to partner with local stakeholders and do restoration work, is going to benefit all stakeholders."

The BLM said it will measure the restoration projects to make sure they are "successful and durable" as they progress.