In 1959, Alaska became a U.S. state. Today, its land area is over 600,000 square miles, making it the largest state in the nation by area. With a population of just over 700,000, Alaska still has a lot of open space. Two-thirds of the state of Alaska’s lands (totaling 222 million acres) are federally owned or managed as of 2020. More than any other state, the usage of land in Alaska is planned. This is due to the fact that over 90 percent of the land in Alaska is managed by state or federal agencies.
If you want to become an urban planner in Alaska, you will have a vast area in which to work. The public sector contains many of the jobs in the field, but you can also find career opportunities in Alaska’s private sector. Keep reading to discover how you can work as an urban planner in The Last Frontier.
How Much Do Alaska’s Urban Planners Earn?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor published that Alaska’s urban planners earned an annual median wage of $78,950 in May 2019. Those working in the Anchorage metropolitan area earned even more per year, at $86,790. Those working in Alaska’s nonmetropolitan area averaged an annual salary of $77,270. So as you can see, working as an urban planner in Alaska can be quite lucrative.
What Are Alaska’s Laws and Regulations Surrounding Planning and Land Use?
Many land use acts have been established in Alaska that require federal or state agencies to prepare land use plans. They include the Alaska Statehood Act, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Alaska National Land Conservation Act, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, just to name a few.
Federal Management of Alaska’s Lands
A variety of federal agencies are responsible for management of Alaska land. They include the U.S. Department of Agriculture –Forest Service. This agency controls land use in two national forests, the Tongass National Forest and the Chugach National Forest.
Another federal agency that controls land in Alaska is the U.S. Department of the Interior – Bureau of Land Management. At the time of Alaska’s statehood, the BLM took care of 272 million acres of Alaska. Much of the control of that land has now been transferred to other federal agencies, as well as state agencies and Native corporations. Currently, the BLM manages 65 million acres of land (18 percent of Alaska’s land). Areas which the BLM manages include land in Anchorage, Glennallen, and the Northern District (including the National Petroleum Reserve, the Central Yukon, Fortymile Wild and Scenic River area, Northwest, Steese National Conservation Area, Utility Corridor, White Mountains, Fort Greeley and Fort Wainwright.
The U.S. Department of the Interior –National Park Service is a federal agency that manages about 51 million acres of Alaska’s land. This land includes:
- Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve
- Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
- Cape Krusenstern National Monument
- Denali National Park and Preserve
- Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
- Katmai National Park and Preserve
- Kenai Fjords National Park
- Kobuk Valley National Park
- Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
- Noatak National Preserve
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve
- Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve
- Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
- Sitka National Historic Park
The U.S. Department of the Interior – Fish & Wildlife Service is another federal agency responsible for managing some of Alaska’s land. As of 2000, they managed 76.9 million acres. Comprehensive conservation plans for which they hold responsibility include:
- Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
- Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge
- Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
- Becharof National Wildlife Refuge
- Innoko National Wildlife Refuge
- Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
- Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge
- Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
- Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
- Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge
- Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge
- Selawik National Wildlife Refuge
- Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge
- Togiak National Wildlife Refuge
- Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
- Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
State Management of Alaska’s Lands
There are two types of plans that are developed when it comes to state-owned land. One is Area Plans, which typically cover larger areas (the largest one so far being 19 million acres) but may also be used for areas as small as 250,000 acres. These types of plans will establish goals, policies, management intent and guidelines for the use of the land and take two to three years to prepare. The other type of plans is Management Plans, which are more detailed plans for special areas and take one to two years to complete.
In Alaska, planning and land use of state-owned lands largely falls under the jurisdiction of the state’s Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining, Land and Water. They are to manage these state-owned lands for the maximum benefit to the public. Land use planning of these lands is the responsibility of the Resource Assessment and Development Section of the DNR’s Division of Mining, Land and Water. Lands managed by this division include:
- Bristol Bay Area
- Nushagak and Mulchatna Rivers Recreation Management
- Central Southeast Area
- Copper River Basin Area
- Dalton Highway/Coldfood Area
- Haines-Skagway Area
- Juneau State Land
- Kenai Area
- Kodiak and Aleutians Area
- Kuskokwim Area
- Lower Yukon-Kuskowim Region
- Northern Southeast Area
- North Slope Region
- Northwest Area
- Prince of Wales Island Area
- Southwest Prince of Wales Island Area
- Prince William Sound Area
- Susitna Area
- Tanana Basin Area
- Turnagain Arm
- Upper Yukon Area
- Yakataga Area
- Yukon-Koyukuk Region
Another state agency responsible for planning land in Alaska is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game- Habitat and Restoration Division. They are responsible for reviewing land use plans to make sure that fish and wildlife habitats are not disturbed by them. About three million acres are managed by this agency.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources- Division of Forestry manages two state forests, the Tanana Valley State Forest and the Haines State Forest Resource Management Area.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources – Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation manages the State Park system, including Chugach State Park, Northern Area, and Southeast Area.
The Office of the Governor – Division of Governmental Coordination, Alaska Coastal Management Program resulted from the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972. Today, this state agency is responsible for managing Alaska’s coastal areas, all in Southeast Alaska.
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was established in 1971 and instructs the Bureau of Land Management to convey 45.5 million acres of public land to regional and village Native corporations. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has requested easements for public access across these Native lands so that public waters and lands can be used. Hunting, fishing and recreational activities are not allowed on these easements as the land belongs to a Native corporation. Many of the trails that are reserved on these lands are unmarked and undeveloped.
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act Program represents an act that was passed in 1980 to designate over 100 million acres of federally-owned land in Alaska as new or expanded conservation system units. Some of these units include the Iditarod National Historic Trail, wild rivers, designated wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, national parks and preserves, the White Mountains National Recreation Area, and the Steese National Conservation Area. The act was designed to help balance the fledgling economy and infrastructure of Alaska with interest in its natural resources.
What Should Aspiring Urban Planners Study in Alaska?
You must ultimately earn your graduate degree in order to work as an urban planner in Alaska. However, you cannot earn a graduate degree without starting at the undergraduate level. Ideally, it is recommended that you find an undergraduate urban planning degree program that holds accreditation through the Planning Accreditation Board of the American Planning Association. However, Alaska houses no such accredited undergraduate programs. Instead, you may consider:
- Bachelor of Science in Environment and Society – University of Alaska Anchorage
- Bachelor of Arts in Rural Development – University of Alaska Fairbanks
A graduate degree in urban planning or a closely related area is your end goal when you want to work as an urban planner in Alaska. Again, it is recommended that you select a graduate urban planning program that holds accreditation by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) of the American Planning Association). And once again, there are no such accredited programs in Alaska. One alternative is to choose an accredited online program, such as:
- University of Florida, Gainesville – Master of Urban & Regional Planning
College of Design, Construction & Planning, School of Landscape Architecture & Planning, Department of Urban & Regional Planning
431A Architecture Building
P.O. Box 115706
Gainesville, FL 32611-5706
Accreditation through December 31, 2026
Kristin Larsen, Director
Other non-PAB accredited urban planning programs available include:
- University of Alaska, Fairbanks – Master of Arts in Rural Development
Department of Alaska Native Studies & Rural Development
3rdFloor Brooks Building
Fairbanks, AK 99775
Patricia Sekaquaptewa, JD and Charlene Stern, Ph.D., Co-Chairs
907.474.6528 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Why Should Urban Planners in Alaska Become Professionally Certified?
American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP)
The American Planning Association-Alaska Chapter recommends that all urban planners working in the state become professionally certified. This is especially important in Alaska, as there are no PAB-accredited programs available. Professional certification shows that you are educated and experienced and can uphold the standards and ethics of the profession. You must sit for the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) exam. The following scenarios explain what criteria you must meet in order to sit for the exam:
- You have no college degree and eight years of professional planning experience.
- You possess an undergraduate or graduate degree in a non-planning area and four years of professional planning experience.
- You possess a graduate degree in planning from an un-accredited school and three years of professional planning experience.
- You have a bachelor’s degree in planning from a PAB- accredited school and three years of professional planning experience.
- You have graduate degree in planning from a PAB- accredited program and two years of professional planning experience.
AICP Certification Maintenance in Alaska
The Certification Maintenance Program of the AICP can help you in maintaining your AICP certification. You must complete32 CM credits every two years. Use CM Search to help find applicable activities and events.
Are There Other Professional Certification Organizations for Alaska Urban Planners?
You may seek out alternative professional certifications like:
- Congress for the New Urbanism-Accredited (CNU-A)
- Professional Transportation Planner (PTP) of the Transportation Professional Certification Boards, Inc. (TPCB)
- GIS Professional (GISP) of the GIS Certification Institute
- Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM) of the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM)
What Types of Jobs and Careers Are Available for Urban Planners in Alaska?
Planning Projects in Alaska
There have been a wide variety of types of planning projects across Alaska in recent years. Some of them include:
- Unalaska – The 12thlargest incorporated city in Alaska, 800 miles southwest of Anchorage, has experienced an increase in development in recent years. Development is focused on finding other economic activities than the traditional fishing industries.
- Cooper River Basin Area Plan – covers 15.9 million acres of land in the eastern portion of southcentral Alaska, the majority of which is under federal ownership. Plan address mainly management of 3.3 million acres of state lands.
- Bering Sea-Western Interior RMP/EIS – a land use plan in Western Alaska covering 62.3 million acres of land
- Kuskokwim Area Plan Amendment – classifies currently unclassified state-owned lands that were not in state ownership at the time of the original adoption of the Kuskokwim Area Plan
Internships in Urban Planning in Alaska
Although you might not be able to find accredited urban planning college programs in Alaska, you still can find internships. Examples of potential internships in urban planning in Alaska include:
- Smart Infrastructure Intern Program – Siemens, Anchorage
- Bering Straits Native Corporation – Anchorage
- Student Trainee – U.S. Department of the Interior, Anchorage
- National Society of Leadership and Success, Juneau
- Office of Sustainability – University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Urban Planning Positions Within Alaska’s Public Sector
There are a wide variety of public sector employers that hire urban planners. They include:
- Planner I, II, III – Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Juneau
- Resource Planner – Kenai Peninsula Borough, Soldotna
- Environmental Engineer – US Department of the Air Force, Elmendorf Air Force Base
- Community & Economic Development Director – Northwest Arctic Borough, Kotzebue
Urban Planning Positions Within Alaska’s Private Sector
In the private sector in Alaska, job titles for urban planners can include:
- Sustainability Coordinator – Allen Marine Tours, Juneau
- Environmental Impact Analyst- Workplace Alaska, Juneau
- Facilities Operations Specialist – PeaceHealth, Ketchikan
- Community Development Coordinator – Association of Village Council Presidents, Bethel