Protecting Alaska's Rivers

The Center has a long history of environmental advocacy in Alaska. Over the past year, we have focused much of our work on the Kuskokwim region. We have provided free legal assistance to the newly developed Kuskokwim River Watershed Council. The primary goal of our work on behalf of the Council is to enable the 29 Alaska Native villages of the Kuskokwim River watershed to protect the environmental integrity of the river and to maintain their traditional, subsistence fishing and hunting lifestyle.

The Kuskokwim is an enormous river drainage, roughly the size of the state of Washington. It is populated mostly by Native people who fish, hunt and gather to supply most of their food. Threats to the river also jeopardize the physical and cultural survival of these Native peoples.  

We have helped the Kuskokwim River Watershed Council to draft organizational documents needed to achieve non-profit status. With the legal structure of the Council now in place, we will help expand the legal and technical capacity of the tribal governments to regulate and manage their traditional territories and resources. This year, we organized meetings with residents of the watershed to begin identifying shared concerns regarding their relationships with the river and surrounding lands.

We are developing a legal and communications strategy as a follow-up step to the meetings. We are working with the Council staff and a broad coalition of environmental organizations in Alaska to determine the best methods to get this information across. This work is crucial in building the capacity of the tribal governments of the Kuskokwim to better participate in the regulation of their traditional territories and resources in the face of future threats.

In addition to the Kuskokwim region, the Center has assisted the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, now consisting of more than 66 Alaska Native villages and First Nations. For the past decade, and continuing today, the Center has worked with the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council as it formulates plans and strategies to address clean-up and protection issues throughout the Yukon watershed.