Under Alaska Management, Mosquito Fork is Open for Business

The federal government has backed down in a long running legal dispute with the State of Alaska over ownership of an eastern interior river. State ownership the Mosquito Fork of the Forty Mile River will open it up to new activity, including mining.

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The Mosquito Fork runs for about 80 miles before joining the main stem of Forty Mile near the Taylor Highway and historic gold mining community of Chicken. It’s within a National Wild and Scenic River Corridor, but this week the Bureau of Land Management dropped claims to the waterway.  Alaska Department of Natural Resources Chief of Operation for the Division of Mining Land and Water, Wyn Menefee says the move ends a drawn out legal battle.

“We were on our way to doing the full arguments in court, and BLM, at the last minute, after a lot of preparation time for the court case gave a recordable disclaimer of interest, which is something they could’ve done at the very beginning, before we ever went to litigation.

As a condition of statehood, Alaska was granted navigable waters, a determination the BLM has challenged on numerous waterways including the Mosquito Fork, despite what Menefee describes as solid evidence.

“We floated the river, we showed it’s navigable — clearly, now — we had evidence of commerce and trade on the river.”

BLM Alaska spokeswoman Leslie Elis Waters would not comment on why the BLM gave up fighting for the Mosquito Fork, saying the decision came down from the U.S. Justice Department, adding that that the BLM intends to cooperate with the state.

The Mosquito Fork is in a popular hunting, recreation, and placer gold mining area, where the BLM has contested some state issued mining claims. Menefee says confirmation of state ownership will open up the river to new activity, including small scale mining.

Menafee hopes that the BLM’s decision drop the fight over the Mosquito Fork signals a sea change in the larger battle over ownership of numerous other Alaska rivers.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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