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Lake Iliamna seal haul-outs to be conserved in easement

Dave Withrow / NOAA

Pedro Bay Corporation and Iliamna Natives, Ltd will voluntarily give up rights to develop on the islands in order to protect a habitat that supports seals as well as spawning sockeye. 

A group of islands in the northeast corner of Lake Iliamna will be permanently protected from large-scale development under a 14,000-acre conservation easement deal announced this week.

Tim Troll is the executive director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, which worked out the conservation agreement with two village corporations. He says the islands are being conserved in part because they provide haul-outs for a very unique population of freshwater seals.

Credit NOAA/Withrow

"Lake Iliamna is one of the few places in the world where seals have adapted, apparently, to freshwater," says Troll. "It's the only population of [freshwater seals] in the United States, and one of only two in North America. The others are in Russia and Finland. So it's pretty unique, and something that only Bristol Bay has." 

The islands are owned by the Pedro Bay Corporation and Iliamna Natives Ltd. The conservation easement doesn’t affect the ownership of the property, but stipulates that the two native corporations won’t do any major development there.

"They retain all the rights of determining who can come on and off the islands and who can use the islands," explained Troll. "What they've agreed to is to keep them in their natural condition forever. So anybody wanting to hunt, say, on those islands, would still need the permission of either one of the respective native corporations." 

Residents of Kokhanok, Pedro Bay, Iliamna, and other Lake villages have harvested some harbor seals as a subsistence food source, and can continue to do so with the conservation easement in place.

Temporary structures, such as tourist facilities, are also allowed under the easement.

Credit Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust
The easement covers 14,000 acres owned by the Pedro Bay and Iliamna village corporations.

Trolls says the Lake Iliamna easement should be finalized by the end of the year.

At 14,000 acres, it’s one of the largest conservation easements to be acquired in Bristol Bay. The largest was a 21,000-acre easement in the Wood Tik-Chik State Park established in 2008. 

Land Trust recently finalized a deal with Koliganek Natives Corporation to put a 570-acre conservation easement in place at the mouth of Harris Creek.