The following are the comments of the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) on the proposed action package for the Kennecott Operations Plan.
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. Â We believe that natural quiet and natural sounds–the natural soundscape–should be recognized by all public land managers as critical resources in and of themselves that deserve no less consideration than, for example, clean air and water or fish and wildlife and their habitat. Â We also believe in a fair and balanced allocation of the public lands for both non-motorized and motorized recreation. Â Since motorized recreation in Alaska occurs on nearly all of the millions of acres of general state lands and extensively (which we believe is unreasonable and inequitable) on BLM, National Forest, and National Wildlife Refuge land, we believe it should at least be prohibited on all designated Wilderness and National Park Service lands.
Since our focus is narrow, we will be commenting primarily on the Access/Transportation portion of the proposed action package. Â However, we were very happy to see the brief section on the Natural Soundscape. Â We urge the Park Service to take the protection, and where necessary, restoration, of this resource seriously, and not just pay lip service to it. Â The Service has been, and hopefully will continue to be, a leader in this field. Â In this regard, we will of course be interested in the answer to the question raised at the July 13 Kennecott Rec Hall public meeting: Â “What is the current sound monitoring happening in the WRST?”. Â We also noticed in the minutes of that meeting that there seemed to be substantial concern about the noise of generators and compressors. Â We hope this noise can be reduced to a very low level–and meeting legal “sound requirements” is not always a satisfactory solution. Â Efforts should be made to reduce the noise to an acceptable level, which could be lower than that required by existing laws or regulations.
Regarding Access/Transportation, we support what we believe we see in the proposed action package. Â We certainly support providing pedestrian visitor access, and the proposed new non-motorized trail. Â We recognize that landowners use subdivision easements and the road from McCarthy for transportation, and that motorized use for access to subsistence resources is generally allowed under ANILCA. Â We do believe, however, that those uses should be monitored and should be regulated if necessary to eliminate unnecessary damage, or to reasonably minimize damage, to soils, vegetation, fish and wildlife habitat, air and water quality, scenic beauty, the Natural Soundscape, and other important resources.
We do not support, as we said in introducing AQRC, the recreational use of off-road vehicles in any units of the National Park System; this certainly includes the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark (KMNHL).
Most of AQRC’s work probably addresses the management of recreational motorized vehicles on public land in the backcountry or in other natural areas. Â We seek a fair and balanced allocation of non-motorized and motorized recreational opportunities on the public lands for the benefit of both recreationists seeking a quiet refuge and resources like the ones listed above. Â But we of course also feel very strongly that people have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their homes. Â Residents of McCarthy and Kennecott should not have to suffer the noisy intrusion of recreational ORVs.
Additionally, Kennecott/McCarthy is probably the major gateway to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve for visitors to our state. Â We feel very confident that they do not expect or desire to be subject to the noise and fumes of recreational ORV use. Â In fact, although the focus of KMNHL is of course cultural history, natural history is also a significant attraction for visitors. Â When a few years ago my sister, brother-in-law and I were enjoying a ranger led natural history walk, the visitors on the walk were surprised–and not happy–to see and hear ORVs on the trail while we were listening to the ranger’s excellent interpretive talk. Â With millions of acres of state and federal land in the Copper Valley available for, in most places, virtually unregulated recreational ORV use, there is no good justification for allowing it in the 7,700 acres of this historic landmark.
Thank you very much for the chance to offer these comments relating to NPS’s plan for such a very important, and very popular, site.
Member, Board of Directors
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition