Kasilof River Special Use Area

Welcome to the Kasilof River Special Use Area (KARSUA) website. The purpose of this site is to educate and inform the public about the recreational opportunities, unique land use rules, and the wildlife habitat all within the KARSUA.

The KARSUA is designated as a Special Use Area (11 AAC 96.014(b)(26)) managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Division of Mining, Land, and Water, Southcentral Regional Office (SCRO). The SCRO determined these lands contain special biological habitat, and recreational values that warrant additional protections. Lands contained within the KARSUA will also continue to be managed as public domain lands under the authority of Alaska Statute Title 38, and through the principles of multiple use.

The KARSUA is Located on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. The main attraction for visitors and residents to the area is the Kasilof River. The Kasilof River is a relatively large, partially glacial-fed river stretching almost 20 miles, flowing north, northwest, draining Tustumena Lake before emptying into the Upper Cook Inlet. The river and adjacent areas are within a short driving distance from most of Southcental Alaska's major population centers (180 miles from Anchorage) creating many readily available commercial, recreational, and personal use fishing, and recreational opportunities for thousands of Alaskans and visitors including boating, hunting, beachcombing, wildlife viewing, picnicking and camping. The lower river system is also used for various commercial activities, namely fishing operations and is directly managed by SCRO through the issuance of authorizations such as permits and leases.

For questions, comments, and/or concerns about the KARSUA, or to receive information about current and upcoming projects taking place on state owned land within the KARSUA contact the Southcentral Region Land Office at 907-269-8503 or Adam Smith at 907-269-8557 or email: adam.smith@alaska.gov.

The Kasilof River Special Use Area (KARSUA) is actively managed by the Southcentral Regional Office (SCRO) of the Division of Mining, Land and Water, Department of Natural Resources. The SCRO is tasked with managing general domain state owned land throughout Southcentral Alaska and undertakes a variety of management/stewardship obligations pertaining to public process decision making, issuance of land use authorizations (permits, easements, leases), and compliance/enforcement duties. Some actives require land use authorizations, while other activities are generally allowed.

Special Use Lands is a designation placed on certain lands identified as having "...special resource values warranting additional protections or other special requirements" (11 AAC 96.014). The following are the additional protections set by regulation within the KARSUA:

  • A person may not place drop, or discard trash garbage or waste, including human waste, except within an authorized or provided toilet or trash facility;
  • A person may not dispose of fish or fish waste on or in state property except upon tidelands or submerged lands;
  • A person may not cut, collect, or harvest a dead standing or live tree, without prior written authorization from the department;
  • With the exception of aircraft, emergency or state-owned motorize vehicles, or a use authorized under a permit issued by the department, within unit KS and KN as shown on the map entitled Kasilof River Special Use Area (ADL 230992): Boundary and State Land, a person may not operate a motorized vehicle, except on designated trails, areas, and the beach as shown on the maps entitled Kasilof River Special Use Area (ADL 230992): Designated Motorized Areas South Side (Unit KS), dated August 10, 2012;
  • If participating in the Kasilof River personal use set gillnet fishery under 5 AAC 77.540, a person may not place stakes, signs, running lines, buoys, or dry nets after December 31 and before May 1 of each year;
  • If participating in the Kasilof River personal use set gillnet fishery under 5 AAC 77.540, a person may not erect or stage a camp, structure, facility, or any related equipment for more than 21 consecutive days for personal use on the beach, except for stakes, signs, running lines, buoys, or dry nets;
  • After May 31 and before August 16 of each year, a person may not discharge a firearm, except for the purpose of lawful hunting or trapping;
  • A person may not relocate a camp, structure, facility, or any related equipment within two miles of the original site for at least 96 hours after the end of the 14-day period for the original site;
  • A person may not deface, destroy, disable, or remove any state-owned or authorized facility or property

DNR's overall management direction puts its focus on maintaining and enhancing public safety, public education, access and recreational opportunities for public and commercial users as well as the protection of fish and wildlife habitat.

Compliance tools, such as education and public awareness are a very important part of the KARSUA. In order to lower impacts to the natural resources and improve the public's overall enjoyment of the area, the following will be considered and implemented as feasible:


  • Provide dedicated staff onsite to answer questions and dispense information
  • Promote educational materials, signage, brochures, and kiosks
  • Develop partnerships with community groups and/or stewards in the area
  • Support regeneration projects within heavily impacted areas
  • Establish community clean-up events
  • Develop education and awareness programs

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is pro-actively developing a comprehensive law enforcement strategy for the Kasilof River Special Use Area (KARSUA). The adoption of the KARSUA regulations was the first step in creating management structure for the lower Kasilof River that will address the present and emerging management problems. These regulations are consistent with the management intent of this special use area. In order for these regulations to become enforceable, statutory authority must be granted by the Alaska Legislature and a Bail Forfeiture Schedule adopted by the Alaska Supreme Court. Once adopted and enforceable, non-criminal citations (similar to a traffic ticket) may be issued by designated Peace Officers of the state.

DNR encourages everyone enjoying state lands to act responsively and adhere to area wide rules. If you witness a crime please call 911 to report the offense. Know your location, and be prepared to tell dispatch your name and contact information. Not knowing your exact location makes it difficult for dispatch to locate the crime scene. If the crime involves a vehicle try to get a license plate number, get a good description of the violator(s) (describe colors, make, model, clothes colors, hats, size, age, etc.). Safety first, never put yourself in harm's way to get information. If you feel like you're in danger then leave the scene immediately and find help.

The various land ownership patterns and the limited available public access to the lower river was some of the challenging factors the Southcentral Regional Office (SCRO) encountered during the development of the Kasilof River Special Use Area (KARSUA). SCRO has been collaborating with the key land owners in the area such as the Kenai Peninsula Borough (KPB), and the Mental Health Trust Authority (MHT) to help resolve many of the access issues. The Kasilof River, including the lands underlying the mouth and upstream to 13 miles, is a state owned navigable water body as determined through a Recordable Disclaimer of Interest process. The state, through the DNR, DMLW also owns and manages the tide and submerged lands out to a three mile limit.

The state (DNR, DMLW) owns and manages a number of upland areas adjacent to the river that are used extensively by the public and serve as main access and camping area to accommodate thousands of users of the personal use fisheries. The available state lands directly adjacent to the river mouth allow the public to readily access both sides of the river for the set and dip net personal use fisheries and the areas' commercial fisheries.

The south side of the mouth can be accessed by following Cohoe Beach Road to the end, then by travelling in a northeasterly direction towards the mouth. Another highly used point of access to the beach on the south side of the river is Fisherman's Road. This unimproved road cuts through Kenai Peninsula Borough lands. Fisherman's Road has historically been used to access the beach for the personal gillnet and the commercial gillnet fisheries. With cooperation from the KPB, annual grading of this unimproved road keeps this important access point open for the public.

Through the planning process, the state acquired several important parcels of land on the south side of the Kasilof River for inclusion into the KARSUA boundaries. The key parcels are all within Township 3 North, Range 12 West of the Seward Meridian within Sections 1 and 2 and include a 23.35 acre parcel within Lot 4; a 10.45 acre parcel within Lots 13, 14, and 15; and a 2.34 acre parcel within Lot 11. The acquisition of these parcels was a very important step in securing long-term public access and use of land on the south side of the Kasilof River.

Public access to the north side of river is via Kasilof Beach Road, then following a 60 foot public right of way to the river mouth. Several unimproved parking areas and trails are used to access the beach during the personal use fisheries. This public road traverses Tract B of U.S. Survey 83 which was donated to DMLW to be managed as a unit of the KARSUA in August of 2012. This 38.5 acre parcel was acquired in part with funds received through the in-lieu fee agreement between the Alaska District, U.S. Corps of Engineers and the Conservation Fund. The purpose of this acquisition is to permanently protect, and manage the property to ensure conservation of wetland ecosystems, and to perpetuate the anadromous fish, wildlife and habitat values, while recognizing the importance of this property for public use.

Maps of the Kasilof Special use Area

Kasilof River Personal and Commercial Use Fishery

In 1981, the Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) created a personal use dip net fishery around the mouth of the Kasilof River. In 1982, the BOF also created the personal use gillnet fishery in the marine waters adjacent to the mouth. These fisheries, managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), are only available to Alaskan residents and were initiated as an alternative to replace subsistence fishing. In recent years these fisheries have become increasingly popular, due to increased population and recent economic instability. These fisheries provide thousands of Alaskans an economical way to stock their freezers for the coming winter months, while enjoying the social benefits that have become an integral part of the fisheries.

All participants of the Upper Cook Inlet personal use fisheries, including the Kasilof, are required to obtain a permit (or be a member of a household with a permit). Completed permits must be returned to ADF&G following each fishing season. The total limit for the personal use fisheries is 25 salmon for the head of the household and 10 salmon for each additional household member. Management of the set gillnet fishery is the responsibility of the ADF&G Commercial Fisheries Division, and management of the dip net fishery is the responsibility of the ADF&G Sport Fish Division. Both fisheries open and close by regulation and in-season management is only required if the fish counts and biological escapement goals cannot be met or projected.

Sockeye (red) salmon is the primary harvest for both of the personal use fisheries, with a limited number of Chinook (King) salmon taken from the personal set gillnet fishery. The peak Sockeye runs typically occurs around mid-July. A large scale commercial set gillnet fishery (including DMLW, SCRO issued set net leases) are present adjacent to the shoreline beginning approximately one mile north and south of the river mouth. The area is also an extensively used harvest area for the commercial drift gillnet fleet, including the existence of a significant number (over 120) of commercially used mooring sites (buoys) beginning at the river mouth, and extending about 2 miles upstream. The Kasilof River and adjacent state uplands and beaches are also very popular for other opportunities such as boating, hunting, beachcombing, wildlife viewing, picnicking and camping.

Wildlife and Habitat

The Kasilof River and adjacent uplands form an interdependent ecological system rich in important land, water and wildlife resources that Alaskans have grown to appreciate and depend upon. Most of the upland areas adjacent to the Lower Kasilof River are relatively low-lying, located within a designated flood zone. These areas have been affected by damaging flood events as recently as 1995 and 2002. The lowlands of the lower river extend towards the mouth, where wide and exposed mud flats are surrounded by flat marshy land. The lowlands support patches of semi-open black spruce and muskeg, as well as shrub and grass lands. These factors, combined with the highly erodible bluffs of the coastline, make development in the area somewhat difficult. Directly adjacent to the river mouth on both the north and south uplands, sandy beaches exist on the ocean forefront, then salt tolerant plant species (mainly grasses) are found in the slightly higher sandy benches (i.e.: the dunes). An extensive area of wetlands is also found on the southern side of the river mouth. The dunes including the grasses form a natural barrier and aid in protection of the adjacent wetlands and flood plain(s). These wetland areas provide natural water storage and habitat for various species and perform important water quality functions. The beach and dune areas are also heavily used by campers and fisherman during the summer season.

The grasslands and adjacent wetland areas directly adjacent to the mouth support a variety of species, particularly in the southern area of the mouth (unit KS). The area supports duck and geese spring (April - May) and fall (August - November) concentrations, seabird and shorebird nesting areas, and trumpeter swan general distributions. The wetland areas also support nearby known moose wintering and rutting concentrations and calving concentration areas. The Kasilof River and adjacent Tustemena Lake are extremely important systems which support both resident and anadromous fish populations, including habitat for Chinook (King) Salmon, Sockeye (Red) Salmon, Coho (Silver) Salmon and Pink (Humpy) Salmon during their sensitive life cycles (i.e.: spawning and rearing). The system is also home to Dolly Varden Char and Steelhead species.

The Kasilof River area is located within ADF&G Game Management Unit 15. Subunit 15C (the Lower Kenai Controlled Use Area) does not allow anyone using a motorized vehicle (except an aircraft or boat) for moose hunting, including the transportation of moose hunters, their hunting gear, and/or parts of moose from September 11-14 and September 17-20. However, this does not apply to the use of motorized vehicle on a state or borough maintained highway, the graveled portions of Oilwell, Brody and Tustumena Lake Roads, or driveways used for direct access to a primary residence or business per Alaska Hunting Regulations 2010-2011 pg. 76.

Final Decision: KASILOF RIVER SPECIAL USE AREA - ADL 230992
*Please click on this link to view the Complete Document.*

Appendix A: Issue Response Summary
Appendix B: Facilities and Improvements Recommendations

Draft Decision: KASILOF RIVER SPECIAL USE AREA
*Please click on this link to view the Complete Draft Decision and Maps.*

Draft Decision: Public Comments:
*Please click on this link to view the public comments submitted concerning the draft decision.*

Kasilof Fencing Project Final Decision
Memorandum of Land Use Permit Decision
*Please click on this link to view the Decision and Map*