June 1, 2010
Chugach National Forest
Glacier Ranger District
Attn.: Teresa Paquet
PO Box 129
Girdwood, AK 99587
Dear Ms. Paquet:
The purpose of this letter is to offer the comments of the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) on the request of Chugach Powder Guides (CPG) to the Forest Service to lift the timing restrictions on the East, Mid Seattle Creek and West Bench Peak areas. The effect of lifting the timing restrictions would be to permit CPG to operate in those three areas every day of the week during the season.
The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition is a statewide nonprofit organization which believes natural quiet and natural sounds are public lands resources which deserve protection by land managers. AQRC seeks a fair and balanced allocation of public lands for quiet recreation and seeks to preserve quiet places for Alaskans, visitors, businesses, wildlife and cabin and homeowners.
As you are well aware, starting in 2003, the public has spent an enormous deal of time and effort in reviewing, analyzing and commenting on CPGâ€™s various permit requests and amendments. The publicâ€™s concerns have centered around user conflict, impacts on wildlife and impacts on communities. AQRCâ€™s lengthy involvement includes making numerous comments, being one of the parties to appeal the decision of the Forest Service to grant a five year permit, and initiating litigation on this issue.
AQRC does not support the Forest Service lifting the timing restrictions for a number of reasons. First, we have no reason to suppose that backcountry skiers and snow boarders are now no longer interested in using these areas or do not value the timing restrictions. For example, we have been informed that the Nordic Ski Club in the last several years has led trips into Center Creek and that telemark skiers use one of the ridges between Center and Bench Creeks. One skier, who values the skiing opportunities in the Center Creek area as â€œfantasticâ€, stated that he and the Ski Club would be driven from that area should they experience helicopter noise. Â Second, one of the overriding issues in all these recent planning and permitting efforts, from the revision of the Forest Plan to the CPG EIS to the Kenai Winter Access Plan to the present, has been the allocation of Â recreational opportunities in Chugach National Forest for non-motorized users and motorized users. In view of the many compromises reached during these several planning efforts, AQRC does not believe CPGâ€™s unilateral request provides justification for changing the current allocations by removing these timing restrictions. Third, we do not believe that the Forest Service has solid, independent evidence on which to make a decision.
We recommend the Forest Service be very skeptical of CPGâ€™s claims that they never see backcountry non-motorized users since It is clearly in CPGâ€™s economic interests to make that claim. In theory, of course, they should not see quiet recreationists in those areas since CPG is not to be in those areas on the days non-motorized users are allowed to recreate. We would hope CPG has not been making fly-overs of these areas on the very days they are not permitted to operate in order to scrutinize the extent of backcountry quiet use. Â What is the factual basis for CPGâ€™s claim ? . Â How many days, in how many years, have they reported that they saw no evidence of use by quiet recreationists during the days allocated for non-motorized use ? When were these observations reported to the Forest Service ? Does the Forest Service have credible, independent evidence which verifies and Â supports CPGâ€™s claim ?
We note from the Â Monitoring Analysis reports that parking lot surveys to track user types have not been done since 2005 and that Forest Service monitoring of CPGâ€™s operations is largely one of reviewing documents for compliance with permit requirements. We further note from the Performance Evaluation forms for the 2005 and 2006 seasons that field inspections appear to consist of one or two Forest Service personnel going out on a CPG trip for one day a year. Clearly this record of monitoring does not yield the information the Forest Service needs for its decision making on this issue.
Further, we draw your attention to the annual Monitoring Analysis reports for 2005 through 2009. The reports for the 2006, 2007 and 2008 permit years show the amounts of time CPG spent in each location. It shows that for those three years no heli-skiing was done in Mid-Seattle Creek (CPG stayed no more than 13 minutes in any one year) while the approximate amount of time spent in the two other areas is shown below. The â€œTotal hoursâ€ column shows the total hours CPG spent each year in all the permitted areas and is included so as to judge the importance of these areas to the whole.
East Seattle Creek West Bench Total hours
2006 10 hours 10 hours 206
2007 5 1/4 hours 2 1/2 hours 428
2008 10 3/4 hours 10 minutes 175
Our conclusion is that these three areas have not been at all important to CPGâ€™s business
model. We therefore question why the Forest Service would even consider changing its permit requirements, with resulting impacts to other Forest users, to accommodate these economic interests.
We also believe the Forest Service needs to address the impacts to wildlife in these three areas should you consider allowing CPG to have seven-day a week access. What wildlife has CPG reported spotting in these areas and, in the case of West Bench, what animal sightings in the adjacent areas have been reported? Since there has been little activity in these three areas, the wildlife sightings reported to date may not accurately reflect the wildlife population.
We note that your May 4, 2010 notice references â€œhybridâ€ users (snowmachine-skiers) in these three areas. It is our understanding that â€œhybridâ€ frequently refers to people using their snowmachine to access a place from which they then ski down. The problem raised is that they turn on the snowmachine, put it in gear, point it downhill and off the machine goes without benefit of an operator. The owner skis down. AQRC trusts that Forest Service regulations prohibit the movement of a snowmachine without its operator and that Â rangers are actively engaged in enforcing these FS regulations. If this in fact is occurring in any of these three areas, the Forest Service should not consider it as legitimate motorized activity deserving of recognition.
Finally, if the Forest Service determines that the facts reveal quiet recreationists have been displaced from these areas due to the noise and presence of snowmachines and/or helicopters, it is AQRCâ€™s position is that the answer is not to expand helicopter operations, but to make certain that recreational opportunities and areas set aside for non-motorized uses remain available, viable and usable.
Thank you for this opportunity to comment.
Susan Olsen, President
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition
P.O. Box 202592
Anchorage, AK 99520