Chugach National Forest: concerns about FS’s interpretation of “traditional activities”

June 27, 2015

Terri Marceron

Forest Supervisor, Chugach National Forest

161 East 1st Avenue, Door 8

Anchorage, AK 99501

Dear Supervisor Marceron:

This letter is a follow-up to the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition’s (AQRC) recent letter commenting on the Chugach National Forest’s Preliminary Need to Change the Forest Plan, Wild & Scenic River Evaluation and Wilderness Area Inventory and Evaluation documents. A further review of the Assessment report leads us to want to underscore the position we have taken repeatedly concerning the Forest Service’s interpretation of Section 1110(a) of ANILCA.

As you are aware, AQRC has commented that we find the FS’s interpretation of “traditional activity” contained in Section 1110(a) of ANILCA to be overly-broad which leads to consequences we do not believe Congress intended. We believe the language in the FS public guidance, “What Can I Do In Wilderness”, dated Nov. 2005, at p. 6, ties “traditional activity” to “recreation activities” that “generally occur(ed) in the area at the time of designation”. However, we are not aware of any factual determination made by the FS to determine whether an activity, such as recreational snowmachining, was occurring in the WSA in 1980. It seems to us that CNF has conflated two concepts: gathering wood or picking berries (activities we would all agree should be considered traditional and probably were occurring in the WSA in 1980 ) using a snowmachine as the means of travel somehow got transformed into considering recreational snowmachining itself as a “traditional activity”. This transformation means present-day recreational snowmachining is allowed, without question, in the WSA and thus, upon designation, anywhere within Congressionally-designated Wilderness which surely goes way beyond the narrow exception Congress intended in order to accommodate the Alaskan way of life.

We further believe this Forest Service interpretation leads to some misleading and anomalous results. For example, Table 54 in the Assessment report entitled “Winter motor vehicle access within the Chugach National Forest (acres)” does not include the acres contained in the WSA. We would argue that since no “tests” are applied, any snowmachiner is free to recreate in the WSA and therefore those nearly 2 million acres need to be included for the table to be accurate. Moreover, in various documents and maps these nearly 2 million acres are coded as “Closed to Motorized Use Except for Subsistence and Traditional Activities”, but we would point out that none of those acres are in fact closed.

AQRC has no idea of how many snowmachine trips for the purpose of recreation are routinely made into the WSA and we understand CNF doesn’t either, in the absence of monitoring this activity. Whether many or few, the underlying point is one of fairness between the allocations made for non-motorized and motorized recreational opportunities in Chugach National Forest. We also believe that the question of what acres the FS considers open/closed to recreational snowmachining will need to be addressed in the over-snow vehicle travel plan. Thank you for this opportunity for additional comment.

Sincerely yours,

Brian Okonek, President Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition

P.O. Box 202592

Anchorage, AK 99520