Unorganized Borough, Alaska

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Unorganized Borough
Nenana Depot
Map of Alaska highlighting Unorganized Borough
Location within the U.S. state of Alaska
Map of the United States highlighting Alaska
Alaska's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 57°30′N 156°42′W / 57.5°N 156.7°W / 57.5; -156.7
Country United States
State Alaska
Largest communityBethel
 • Total323,440 sq mi (837,700 km2)
 • Total77,157
 • Density0.24/sq mi (0.092/km2)
Time zonesUTC−9 (Alaska)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−8 (ADT)
UTC−10 (Hawaii–Aleutian)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−9 (HADT)

The Unorganized Borough is composed of the portions of the U.S. state of Alaska which are not contained in any of its 19 organized boroughs. While referred to as the "Unorganized Borough", it is not a borough itself, as it forgoes that level of government structure. It encompasses nearly half of Alaska's land area, 323,440 square miles (837,700 km2), and, as of the 2020 U.S. Census, it had a population of 77,157, which was 10.52% of the population of the state.[1] The largest communities in the Unorganized Borough are the cities of Bethel, Unalaska, and Valdez.


This vast area has no local government other than that of school districts, municipalities, and tribal village governments. Except within some incorporated cities, all government services in the Unorganized Borough, including law enforcement, are provided by the state or by a tribal government. School districts in the Unorganized Borough are operated either by cities, in those limited instances when the city has chosen to undertake those powers, or through the general guidance of the Alaska Department of Education under the auspices of Rural Education Attendance Areas.

Census areas[edit]

Unique among the United States, Alaska is not entirely subdivided into county equivalents. To facilitate census-taking in the vast unorganized area, the United States Census Bureau, in cooperation with the state, divided the unorganized borough into 11 census areas, beginning with the 1970 Census and undergoing border or name adjustments most recently in 2007, 2008, 2013, 2015, and 2019.[2]

Census area
FIPS code[3] Largest town
(as of 2000)
Etymology Density
Population[4] Area[5] Map
Aleutians West Census Area 016 Unalaska Location in the western Aleutian Islands. 1.27 5,232 4,394 sq mi
(11,380 km2)
State map highlighting Aleutians West Census Area
Bethel Census Area 050 Bethel City of Bethel, the largest settlement in the census area, which is itself named for the Biblical term Bethel ("house of God"). 0.45 18,666 40,631 sq mi
(105,234 km2)
State map highlighting Bethel Census Area
Chugach Census Area 063 Valdez The Chugach people
(Part of Valdez–Cordova Census Area prior to January 2, 2019) [6][7]
0.71 7,102 9,530 sq mi
(24,683 km2)
State map highlighting Chugach Census Area
Copper River Census Area 066 Glennallen The Copper River
(Part of Valdez–Cordova Census Area prior to January 2, 2019) [6][7]
0.11 2,617 24,692 sq mi
(63,952 km2)
State map highlighting Copper River Census Area
Dillingham Census Area 070 Dillingham The city of Dillingham, the largest settlement in the area, which was named after United States Senator Paul Dillingham (1843-1923), who toured Alaska with his Senate subcommittee in 1903. 0.27 4,857 18,334 sq mi
(47,485 km2)
State map highlighting Dillingham Census Area
Hoonah–Angoon Census Area 105 Hoonah The cities of Hoonah and Angoon 0.33 2,365 6,555 sq mi
(16,977 km2)
State map highlighting Hoonah–Angoon Census Area
Kusilvak Census Area 158 Hooper Bay Kusilvak Mountains
(Known as Wade Hampton prior to 2015)
0.48 8,368 17,077 sq mi
(44,229 km2)
State map highlighting Kusilvak Census Area
Nome Census Area 180 Nome City of Nome, the largest settlement in the census area. 0.43 10,046 22,970 sq mi
(59,492 km2)
State map highlighting Nome Census Area
Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area 198 Craig Prince of Wales Island and the town of Hyder
(Known as Prince of Wales-Outer Ketchikan prior to the expansion of Ketchikan Gateway Borough in 2008)
1.18 5,753 5,264 sq mi
(13,634 km2)
State map highlighting Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area
Southeast Fairbanks Census Area 240 Deltana Its location, southeast of Fairbanks 0.28 6,808 24,823 sq mi
(64,291 km2)
State map highlighting Southeast Fairbanks Census Area
Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area 290 Fort Yukon Yukon River ("great river" in Gwich’in), which flows through the census area; and the city of Koyukuk 0.04 5,343 145,576 sq mi
(377,040 km2)
State map highlighting Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area


During the 1950s, when the push for the territory of Alaska to become a state was at its height, any municipal government was extremely limited and scattered. Territory-wide, there were no more than a few dozen incorporated cities, and a small handful of service districts, broken into public utility districts and independent school districts. The service districts were authorized by the territorial legislature in 1935 to allow unincorporated areas limited powers to provide services and to raise taxes for them.

The United States Congress had forbidden the territory from establishing counties.[8][why?] The delegates of the convention which wrote the Alaska Constitution had, in fact, debated the merits of establishing counties, and had rejected the idea in favor of creating a system of boroughs, both organized and unorganized.

The intent of the framers of the constitution was to provide for maximum local self-government with a minimum of local government units and tax-levying jurisdictions. The minutes of the constitutional convention indicate that counties were not used as a form of local government for various reasons. The failure of some local economies to generate enough revenue to support separate counties was an important issue, as was the desire to use a model that would reflect the unique character of Alaska, provide for maximum local input, and avoid a body of county case law already in existence.

Instead, Alaska adopted boroughs as a form of regional government. This regionalization tried to avoid having a number of independent, limited-purpose governments with confusing boundaries and inefficient governmental operations, as the territorial service districts had been. The boroughs were widely seen as an important foundation for the government to provide services without becoming all-powerful and unnecessarily intrusive, an argument which surfaced time and time again during various attempts by the legislature to create organized boroughs out of portions of the unorganized borough.

Alaska adopted the borough structure by statute in 1961, and envisioned boroughs to serve as an "all-purpose" form of local government, to avoid the perceived problems of county government in the lower 48 states as well as Hawaii. According to Article X of the Alaska Constitution, areas of the state unable to support borough government were to be served by several unorganized boroughs, which were to be mechanisms for the state to regionalize services; however, separate unorganized boroughs were never created. The entire state was defined as one vast unorganized borough by the Borough Act of 1961, and over the ensuing years, Alaska's organized boroughs were carved out of it.

Alaska's first organized borough, and the only one incorporated immediately after passage of the 1961 legislation, was the Bristol Bay Borough. The pressure from residents of other areas of the state to form boroughs led to the Mandatory Borough Act of 1963, which called for all election districts in the state over a certain minimum population to incorporate as boroughs by January 1, 1964.

A resolution of the State of Alaska's Local Boundary Commission introduced in January 2009 spells this out in greater detail:

Furthermore, 21 Rural Education Attendance Areas were established by the Legislature in 1975. This created regional divisions of the unorganized borough for the purpose of establishing rural school districts. Many REAAs were later absorbed into organized boroughs.

Regional Educational Attendance Areas[edit]

There are 19 Regional Educational Attendance Areas in the unorganized borough.[10]

Regional name Headquarters REAA or Borough School Locations Notes
Alaska Gateway Tok
Dot Lake
Northeast central Alaska area
Aleutian Region
Nikolski (closed)
Annette Island Metlakatla
Bering Straits Unalakleet Norton Sound
Saint Michael
White Mountain

Seward Peninsula

Brevig Mission

Saint Lawrence Island

Chatham Angoon
Elfin Cove (closed), Cube Cove (closed)
Chenega Bay
Copper River Glennallen
Kenny Lake
Chistochina (closed), Copper Center (closed), Gakona (closed), Nelchina (closed)
Delta/Greely Delta Junction
Gerstle River
Healy Lake (closed), Fort Greely (closed)
Iditarod McGrath
Holy Cross
Lake Minchumina (closed), Lime Village (closed)
Kuspuk Aniak
Crooked Creek
Lower Kalskag
Stony River
Upper Kalskag
Red Devil (closed)
Lower Kuskokwim Nunivak Island
Lower Yukon Mountain Village
Hooper Bay
Nunam Iqua
Pilot Station
Russian Mission
Scammon Bay
Pitkas Point (closed)
Pribilof Islands Saint Paul Saint George (closed)
Southeast Island
Port Alexander
Thorne Bay
Whale Pass
Edna Bay (closed), Port Protection (closed)
Southwest Region Aleknagik
Clark's Point
New Stuyahok
Twin Hills
Portage Creek (closed)
Yukon Flats Fort Yukon
Arctic Village
Stevens Village
Birch Creek (closed), Central (closed)
Manley Hot Springs
Bettles (closed)
Yupiit (Akiachak, Akiak, Tuluksak) Akiachak
Goodnews Bay
Toksook Bay
Kashunamiut (Chevak) Chevak

Dispute over future mandatory boroughs[edit]

A number of boroughs have been incorporated since the Mandatory Borough Act, but most (the primary examples being North Slope, Northwest Arctic, and Denali) were incorporated to exploit a significant potential source of taxation, such as natural resource extraction and tourism.[citation needed]

Many residents of the Unorganized Borough, particularly those in the larger communities which may be most susceptible to organized borough incorporation, have been opposed to such incorporation, and say the status quo suits them just fine.[citation needed]

On the other hand, many Alaskans residing in organized boroughs feel that they unfairly subsidize residents of the Unorganized Borough, especially for education. In 2003, the Alaska Division of Community Advocacy identified eight areas within the Unorganized Borough meeting standards for incorporation.[11] Bills have been introduced in the Alaska Legislature to compel these areas to incorporate, though as of 2009, none have been signed into law.

Major communities[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2020 Census Data - Cities and Census Designated Places" (Web). State of Alaska, Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Retrieved October 31, 2021.
  2. ^ "Substantial Changes to Counties and County Equivalent Entities: 1970-Present".
  3. ^ "EPA County FIPS Code Listing". Retrieved February 23, 2008.
  4. ^ "Alaska Population Estimates". Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
  5. ^ "TIGERweb". US Census. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Changes to Counties and County Equivalent Entities: 1970-Present". The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved February 29, 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Alaska Population Estimates". Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Retrieved March 1, 2020.
  8. ^ "Governing Alaska: The Territory of Alaska". Alaska History and Cultural Studies. Archived from the original on September 27, 2013. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  9. ^ The document on Valdez municipal website
  10. ^ "Alaska School Map" (PDF). Alaska education. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  11. ^ "Legislative Direct for Unorganized Borough Review". Alaska Department of Commerce. Archived from the original on December 1, 2005. Retrieved December 1, 2005.

External links[edit]