December 1, 2011
Division of Mining, Land and Water
Attn: Joseph Joyner
550 W 7th Ave., Suite 1070
Anchorage, Alaska 99501-3579
Re: Proposed Regulations for the Hatcher Pass Special Use Area
Dear Mr. Joyner:
The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) submits the following comments on the proposed regulation changes that will apply to the revised Hatcher Pass Management Plan adopted in 2010.
AQRC would like to thank you for accepting our request to extend the comment period for an additional two weeks.
We will be addressing the following issues listed below.
- Commercial motorized recreation
- Winter motorized recreation in non-motorized units
- Predetermined dates for seasons
- Another special use
- Sufficient snow depth
Commercial motorized recreation – Section (A) (F)(ii)
It is disappointing and disingenuous to discover that motorized commercial recreation will be permitted in the designated non-motorized (year) areas of Mile 16, Government Peak,Â Independence, & portions of Reed lakes/Little Susitna and Archangel Units.Â In addition, Summit Lake State Recreation Site, the High Glacier Peaks, the Government Peak, the Independence, and portions of the Archangel and Reed Lakes/Little Susitna units will have the option for permitted commercial winter motorized recreation.Â These options were not discussed or presented during the public process.Â The proposed regulations allowing commercial motorized recreation in designated non-motorized areas amounts to these units being destined as multi-use areas.Â What is the point of having designated non-motorized units if they will be invaded by commercial motorized recreation?Â Is there a list of commercial motorized recreation activities?Â If so, where?
These permits will be issued by DNR with no public process or input.Â In reviewing the recently adopted Hatcher Pass Management Plan, we find one reference in Chapter 4 4-3 and there it states there are specific stipulations designed to manage winter commercial activities.Â We reviewed 11 AAC 96.014(b)(3) and find no such stipulations.Â A phone call to a DNR staff person to inquire where the stipulations might be found elicited the answer that it probably didnâ€™t make it into the 2002 regulations.Â However, this citation that there are stipulations is in the newly adopted Hatcher Pass Management Plan 2010.
This looks like an end run around designated non-motorized recreation areas.Â DNR needs to eliminate permitting commercial motorized recreation in non-motorized areas.Â If DNR arbitrarily decides to go forward with this we strongly believe there should be specific lists, criteria and stipulations for this invasion.Â We also recommend a public process before permits are issued.Â We want to point out also that there is no mention of the West side so we can only assume â€œanything goesâ€ there.
Winter motorized recreation in non-motorized units â€“ Section F
The wording in this section, the units listed and the map reference are not well stated or clear. It could be interpreted that once there is sufficient snow cover, snowmobiles are allowed everywhere in those units.Â The term â€œportionsâ€ is mentioned in the Archangel and Reed Lakes/Little Susitna units but not in the other units.Â Snowmobile access is not allowed in most of the Independence or Government Peak units but that is not clear in this section. The maps provided for the proposed regulations are also not clear in defining the â€œportionsâ€ of units.Â Again, this leads one to the conclusion that snowmobile access will be allowed everywhere despite the designated non-motorized units in the Hatcher Pass Management Plan 2010.
Predetermined dates for seasons – Sections (D) (E) (F) (G)
It is very problematic to set dates for seasons in stone within the regulations.Â Seasonal weather patterns are ever changing.Â For instance, in Section D motorized vehicle use is prohibited only between May 1 and August 1 and this unit has been classified as non-motorized summer.Â Summer may be earlier or last longer than these dates.Â The same holds true for dates assigned in the other units.Â There should be some flexibility and criteria for when and where motorized activities can occur in these units summer or winter that is not driven by dates.Â It would be difficult to enforce regulations to protect the habitat and environment if a motorized activity happened before or after these dates.
Another special use – Section (D)
This needs to be defined.Â What is another special use? Where is it defined?Â DNR is making this determination without any criteria or lists of examples.Â For example, can a busload of photographers descend on the tundra to view nesting birds?Â What if there are disabled photographers that would need â€œspecial accessâ€ via ATV?Â How many photographers? How many buses?Â It seems that the department has much latitude in determining what may/may not negatively affect bird nesting in the Bald Mountain Ridge Habitat Area.Â Of course, the Bald Mountain Ridge Habitat area is on the West side so perhaps anything will be â€œanother special use.â€
Sufficient snow depth – Section (F)
This needs to be defined in some manner.Â What is the depth of snow cover that is sufficient to protect the underlying vegetation?Â What department determines this and what are the criteria? Â Is it Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation (DPOR)? At the very least there should be standards.Â It is our understanding that there are standards/guidelines established that DPOR uses in various State Parks.Â This was verified in a conversation with State Parks personnel. They should be referred to in the regulations and published so the public knows what they are.Â DNR had no problem assigning a number of 6â€ to ATVâ€™s pertaining to how deep ATV/ORV wheels are allowed to â€œsink inâ€ and damage habitat in the Knik River Public Use Area.Â Regulations need to be specific in order to be consistent for land managers and the public.
Camping – Section (H)(ii)
What is the language of this section stating?Â That you can camp within Â¼ mile of the right of way of a road or trail or that you cannot?Â The language needs to be more clear and specific.Â Will enforcement personnel be patrolling the roads and trails with tape measures looking for campers within or outside of the right of way?Â Will there be signs all along the trails?Â Many people camp very near the Gold mint, Reed lakes trails and along Archangel Road.Â The Hatcher Pass Management Plan area encompasses over 300,000 acres and this includes the West side.Â These regulations are written only for units on the East side.Â Why not apply them to the West side?Â DNR keeps using the excuse that there isnâ€™t enough management ability for enforcement on the West side, yet there is a plan that has policies that apply to it.Â Meanwhile damage continues with no monitoring, oversight or mitigation on the west side. Shouldnâ€™t some enforcement begin on the West side?Â It could begin with some camping regulations.Â We recommend that DNR clarify the proposed regulations for camping on the East side units and consider adopting some camping regulations for areas along the road on the West side.
In the Dear Alaskan letter introducing the proposed regulations the following statements are made that we feel merit some comments:
â€œAfter numerous contacts with individuals, as well as community groups including recent public planning meetings, the department has determined that certain activities currently being conducted within these areas are creating negative impacts on public land and waters, and in many cases create a negative or unsafe environment for other users of the area.â€
Although many citizens and groups spoke out about the current conflicts and public safety issues between snowmachines and skiers, snowshoers, mushers and other non-motorized recreationists, it fell on deaf ears.Â Instead, DNR chose to open existing non-motorized areas such as the Reed Valley to snowmachines despite their mention in the management plan that it could become a problem.Â The opening of non-motorized areas to snowmachines will exacerbate the existing problems despite the proposed regulations.
â€œFurthermore, if adopted, these regulations will help the department reduce the costs of managing the use and abuse of the area, while creating a safer, more positive environment for the majority of users of the area.â€
Opening additional areas for snowmachine recreation in the Reed Lakes Unit that were once non-motorized does not and will not reduce costs of management or make it easier for rangers to enforce boundaries.Â The resources of DPOR are stretched so thin in Hatcher Pass it is difficult to enforce any regulations under the current older version of the Hatcher Pass Management Plan. The new plan is adding additional areas further into the backcountry and away from the road system.Â One of the main goals of the plan was to make it easier for managers and safer for recreation users and the end result is the opposite.
AQRC strongly encourages DNR DMLW to clearly define the regulations as listed above.Â Without clarity, enforcement becomes a â€œhe said, she saidâ€ situation that will most likely wind up in litigation.Â Again we would like to express our extreme disappointment in allowing permits to be granted for commercial motorized recreation in designated non-motorized areas and units.Â What is the point in designating non-motorized units if you will allow motorized activities?Â The whole purpose of non-motorized units was to grant quiet, safe places with minimal or no conflicts for people to enjoy.
In closing, we thank you for the opportunity to comment and hope you will revise the regulations to address our concerns and correct the deficiencies and vague language.
Member, Board of Directors
Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition
PO Box 202596
Anchorage, AK 99516