April 26, 2016
Dear Chel Ethun;
Thank you for the chance to comment on the White Mountains National Recreation Area Management (WMNRA) Plan.
The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) is dedicated to protecting the rights of Alaskans to quiet places for the benefit of public land users, home and cabin owners, communities, businesses, wildlife, visitors, and future generations. AQRC recommends that while revising the WMNRA management plan that motorized use in the area is carefully analyzed to find out how increased use has affected wildlife habitat and non-motorized recreational use of the area. Impacts to both should be carefully monitored and motorized use should be managed appropriately to reduce harm to wildlife habitat and protect the natural soundscape of the White Mountains.
Alaska’s natural beauty, wildness, wildlife, expanses of undisturbed open space, and peace and quiet are among its most cherished values, and Alaskans, our visitors, and future generations have the right to experience the natural sights, sounds and quiet beauty of our state. In the vast majority of cases, the obtrusive noise, summer landscape degradation and winter snowscape defacement, exhaust, and dangers of motorized recreation are incompatible with those special natural experiences and with quiet homes and neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, though, natural quiet and the opportunity to hear and enjoy natural sounds are increasingly hard to find in our state—a fact which would surprise the great majority of non-residents for whom Alaska is a potent symbol of the natural and the wild, not of noisy mechanization. Although there are many places in Alaska that look the same as they did 100 or more years ago, very few sound as they did only 10 or 20 years earlier.
Consequently, not only do we need to protect those quiet areas that still remain, but we need to restore many previously quiet lands to their former, more natural, more pristine condition. Most of us, until quite recently, took the restorative quiet of the outdoors for granted. We assumed that the backcountry would always provide a quiet refuge from the noise, busyness and artificiality of our towns and cities. That assumption, to our great chagrin, has proven to be false. We now know that natural quiet and natural sounds require our—the public, and the public’s stewards, the land managers—constant vigilance if they’re to survive even into the middle of our present century.
Ironically, accessible natural quiet can be easier to find in the lower 48, in the many designated Wildernesses where motorized recreation is prohibited, than in supposedly wild Alaska, where many federal land managers erroneously believe that ANILCA requires them to allow obtrusive recreational activities, for example, snowmachining, even in designated Wilderness. Recreational snowmachining, inaccurately characterized as “traditional,” is allowed in spite of its numerous adverse impacts and the conflicts it so often creates with truly traditional, low impact means of access like walking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. We can and should do better.
AQRC believes in a fair and balanced allocation of the state’s public lands for both non-motorized and motorized recreation. At the present time, there is a gross imbalance on the public lands that both unwisely and inequitably favors motorized recreation over muscle-powered recreation. In the interests of both good stewardship and fundamental fairness, this imbalance needs to be rectified. A reasonable proportion (we’ve suggested 50%) of public lands and facilities of all jurisdictions throughout the state should be set aside for quiet recreation—thereby also helping to protect clean air and water, fish and wildlife, scenic beauty, and the wilderness character for which Alaska is famous worldwide.
Natural quiet and natural sounds should be recognized by all public land managers as critical resources in and of themselves that deserve no less consideration than clean air and water or fish and wildlife and their habitat. Soundscape plans should be prepared. The analysis of proposed agency actions should include a determination of the possible effects on natural quiet and natural sounds and on the humans and wildlife that enjoy or depend on them. Alternatives should be considered.
AQRC’s focus has been on motorized recreation, not subsistence. And ANILCA, rightfully so, has more liberal policies for the use of motorized vehicles for necessary subsistence than for non-essential recreation. Subsistence use of motorized vehicles should, nevertheless, be subject, where appropriate, to reasonable regulations (as provided for in ANILCA).
Several general principles should apply to all public land decisions regarding the use of recreational motorized vehicles, both private and commercial, and whether used on the land, water, or air (some of these principles will not apply to all types of vehicles).
1. An analysis should be done of the possible effects on natural quiet and natural sounds and on the humans and wildlife that enjoy or depend on them.
2. Several alternatives should be considered, including ones that eliminate and that minimize impacts and conflicts.
3. Actions that would result in increased in motorized activity should be balanced with measures to increase opportunities for high quality non-motorized recreation.
4. Public lands should be closed (to motorized recreational vehicles) until specifically opened, rather than wide open until closed (the latter policy is the case on most public lands at the present time).
5. Where areas are opened, non-snow travel should be on designated, posted trails only. Cross country travel should be prohibited. Even in open snowmachine areas, travel only on designated trails will sometimes be appropriate.
6. Motorized recreational vehicle use should be allowed only where it will not cause significant environmental or social harm.
7. Where motorized recreation is allowed, adequate funding for monitoring and enforcement must be provided.
8. Motorized recreation should not be allowed on lands designated, managed or proposed as Wilderness.
Thank you again for this chance to offer our comments on such an important, and too often neglected, subject.
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition, President