Glacier Bay National Preserve (Dry Bay) ORV EA

Allison Banks BY FAX

Environmental Protection Specialist

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

PO Box 140

Gustavus, AK 99826

Re: Dry Bay (Glacier Bay Nat’l Preserve)

Off-Road Vehicle Use Plan EA

Dear Allison:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Glacier Bay National Preserve [Dry Bay] Off-Road Vehicle Use Plan Environmental Assessment.

These comments are submitted on behalf of the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC). AQRC is a statewide non-profit organization that advocates for the protection, and where necessary the restoration (increasingly, restoration is required), of natural quiet and the opportunity to hear and enjoy natural sounds. These resources and opportunities, which are rapidly being degraded on and over the public lands and waters, are important to a wide variety of interests, including backcountry hikers and skiers, more passive recreationists and visitors, cabin owners, home owners, many tourism operators, local communities, and of course wildlife. We are also interested, although it is subsidiary to our primary mission, in the many non-noise impacts created by ORV use. Since they are still very relevant at this later stage of the planning process, we have repeated a number of the comments we submitted at the scoping stage (thank you, word processor).

The Park Service is to be commended for addressing the issue of ORV use in Dry Bay. This very important issue should not be ignored. ORVs often damage or destroy soils, vegetation, and wildlife habitat, and they can disturb wildlife; they pollute the air and water; they degrade wilderness character and often mar scenic beauty; and they shatter natural quiet and the opportunity to hear and enjoy natural sounds.

Consequently, the use of ORVs on the public lands should be minimized. Such use should be the exception, not the rule. ORVs should be carefully managed where they are allowed, and their recreational use should be prohibited on many public lands. Certainly the recreational use of ORVs, both for individual and commercial purposes, should not be allowed in National Park Service units.

We therefore oppose Alternative 3, the Park Service’s preferred alternative, and instead support a modified Alternative 3, the environmentally preferred alternative. And if we understand the 1984 General Management Plan correctly, it was wisely decided in that document to allow ORVs to be used by a narrower group than is presently being proposed; that plan should not be amended to broaden the authorized user group.

There are many other public lands where ORVs are allowed (although often to a greater degree than is responsible and appropriate), and the non-Wilderness public lands that have received the most protective classification, the National Park Service lands, should be managed for uses that are less destructive and that create fewer conflicts. In National Park Service units the natural should predominate, not the artificial and mechanical, and protecting resources for future generations should take precedence over gratifying recreational desires.

Uses of ORVs that might be specifically authorized by ANILCA (and even these authorizations are often qualified), for purposes such as commercial fishing, subsistence, and reasonable access to inholdings (such access by summer ORV is not necessarily reasonable if alternatives by air, water, or in the winter are adequate), should be allowed if the appropriate standards are met, but should be managed to minimize use and consequent impacts and conflicts. Travel should be on designated trails or routes only; the number of designated trails/routes should be minimized by eliminating redundant or minimally used routes; routes that are causing serious or irreparable environmental damage should be re-routed or eliminated; and hardening, bridges and other improvements should only be undertaken when the use of the trail by ORVs is clearly warranted and an alternative location is not feasible.

And, again, ORV use for recreational purposes should not be allowed. Even when Congress created in ANILCA a narrow special exception in Section 1110(a) for the use of motorized vehicles for certain limited purposes, the exception applied only to airplanes, motorboats, and snowmachines, not summer ORVs. And we firmly believe the courts will conclude that even with regard to snowmachines, the Congress did not authorize their use for recreational purposes, and certainly not for non-consumptive recreational purposes.

We would have hoped that the ORV rules proposed for Dry Bay would be consistent with the Park Service’s strict mandate to prevent impairment of the natural resources and values for which it has management responsibility so that they will continue to be available for the enjoyment of future generations of visitors. And of course where a choice has to be made between protection and enjoyment, the priority must be protection—which, in the long term, results in any case not only in the protection of resources but in the maintenance of the opportunity for present and future visitors to enjoy those resources in a non-destructive manner indefinitely. Unfortunately, the Park Service’s preferred alternative, #3, fails to provide the strict stewardship and protection of Preserve resources that the public, with good reason, expects.

In addition to expressing our support, as we said above, for a modified Alternative 3, we have the following additional comments.

The EA fails to assess the impact of its alternatives on natural quiet and the opportunity to hear and enjoy natural sounds. The Park Service nationwide has been a leader in recognizing that these resources deserve equal consideration with the resources and values more traditionally assessed in environmental documents, and has included, we understand, soundscape plans, or recommendations to prepare soundscape plans or components, in a number of recent environmental documents.

Additionally, the Park Service should not avoid assessing the impacts of its alternatives on small “w” wilderness and wilderness characteristics just because Dry Bay is not a big “W” designated Wilderness; many visitors hope, and many expect, to be able to enjoy wilderness values in some, or some portion of, National Park System lands regardless of whether those lands have been officially designated Wilderness by the Congress.

It’s not clear that the description of the No Action Alternative is accurate. It suggests that recreational ORV use would continue. It appears to us, however, that that use is illegal at least until 36 CFR Section 4.10 and Executive Order 11644 have been complied with, which to date they have not. Surely, should this in fact be correct, a No Action alternative can’t sanction continued illegalities.

We are not persuaded by the Park Service’s assertion that distinguishing between different uses would be too difficult and that permits (or permit clauses) for ORV use would not be beneficial. The only case for ORV use which we believe is clearly made based on the information in the EA is for commercial fishing (this is due to the statutory language in ANILCA). A clause could be inserted in the commercial fishing permits which prohibits the use of ORVs for recreational purposes and provides for the loss of the permit should that provision be violated. It might not be easy to detect violations, but fishermen might be sufficiently concerned about the consequences of a violation to comply in spite of the difficulty of detection.

There is insufficient information in the EA about the use of ORVs by the lodge concessionaires to demonstrate that their use is needed. We wouldn’t conclude that all concessionaire ORV uses are appropriate, in the absence of an ORV plan, just because they happen to be authorized at the present time.

Perhaps a van (not necessarily an ORV) is needed to transport clients and their luggage to the lodge (that is, for access to the lodge), or perhaps for other limited functional purposes by lodge personnel in the neighborhood of the lodge. But once the clients and their luggage have reached the lodge, there are other ways that they can get to their fishing, hunting or other locations. Certainly lodges were able to operate quite successfully before ORVs became available. And just because a technology is available doesn’t mean its use is appropriate in a National Park System unit.

Recreational ORV use should not be allowed in National Park System units, including this one, by either private individuals or by concessionaire clients; there’s no magic that makes recreational ORV use acceptable by lodge clients when it’s not acceptable, as we strongly believe, for private individuals.

Thank you again for the chance to comment.


Cliff Eames

Board Member, AQRC

For the Organization

Cliff Eames