Knik River PUA: Preliminary Alternatives and Management Actions

May 1, 2007

Mr. Brandon McCutcheon, Plan Project Manager


550 W. 7th Avenue, Suite 1050

Anchorage, AK 99501

Dear Mr. McCutcheon:

The purpose of this letter is to offer the comments of the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) on the draft Preliminary Alternatives and Preliminary Management Actions for the Knik River Public Use Area Management Plan. AQRC is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization with approximately 600 members and supporters from throughout Alaska. AQRC seeks a fair and balanced allocation of Alaska’s public lands for the non-motorized and motorized recreationist. We believe natural sounds and natural quiet are resources to be protected by land managers of our public lands and that  public land users, home owners, communities, businesses, wildlife, visitors and future generations all have the right to quiet places.

Before we comment on the specifics of the draft Preliminary Alternatives and Management Actions, we believe some general comments are in order.  Section 41.23.180 of the legislation identifies four purposes, the first three of which are pertinent to this discussion. We read the purpose section as giving equal weight to all sections listed, but we find the proposed alternatives and management actions to be heavily skewed toward just one of the purposes: off-road vehicle motorized recreational opportunities. Opportunities for non-motorized users  are virtually non-existent. Secondly, we believe a conflict exists among the purposes (ongoing OHV use, non-motorized use and protection and maintenance of nesting areas and fish and wildlife habitat) unless restrictions are imposed on OHV use. We do not find that the proposed alternatives and management actions adequately resolve these inherent conflicts.

We recognize that the proposals call for no new trails and that the possibility of re-routing and closing trails exists.  However, we are concerned that  without a definition of what constitutes a “trail”, it will be impossible to enforce the “no new trail” provisions.  We strongly recommend that DNR adopt a definition of “trail” and take the position that “existing trails” are those in existence at the time the legislation was enacted. Otherwise, DNR may be forced to ‘recognize” new trails put in by OHV users between now and when the Management Plan is finally adopted. We assume DNR has aerial photographs which would support this position. Moreover, we believe the suggestion to rescind some of the Generally Allowed Uses to permit continued abuse is simply unconscionable, unless applicable only to flood plain areas without resource values.

As to specifics, we find the Preliminary Alternatives for Unit A, Lower Knik Flats, and Unit B, Lakes, to be much too narrow and fail to reflect all purposes of the legislation. Our comments focus  on these two areas on the premise that these are the high use areas and most subject to conflict among users and uses.  In our opinion, the alternatives do not adequately provide for: “general public recreation” ; protection and maintenance of nesting areas and wildlife and fish habitat ; and maintenance and enhancement of “non-motorized recreational opportunities”. For example, one proposed non-motorized trail in Unit A and a 1/2 mile section of the Rippy Trail in Unit B (and then only if  Alternative 3 is chosen) do not fulfill the above cited purposes of general public recreation or non-motorized recreational opportunities. We strongly support Alternative 3 in Unit A in regards to recreational discharge of firearms if “restriction” means prohibition. We believe this is important for individual safety as well as for the peace and quiet the non-motorized user of the area seeks. In the Lakes Unit we recommend a similar prohibition for the same reasons.  We also fail to see how adequate protection for nesting areas and fish and wildlife habitat is provided when OHV use is allowed, in Unit B, to continue on existing trails regardless of the damage already done. In effect, this rewards those who have repeatedly violated the State’s Generally Allowed Uses governing OHV use on general state lands.  Moreover, we strenuously object to the proposal in Unit A which would rescind  protections against significant rutting and ground disturbance by OHVs. Unless DNR can guarantee that such rescission will only be applicable to non-vegetated flood plain areas without resource values, the state has no business promoting the destruction of the lands it owns and manages.  The Constitutional requirement that the state’s resources be managed on a “sustained yield basis” would appear to be violated unless this pertains solely to lands routinely subjected to the natural forces of the Knik River. Apparently the only area to be protected in Unit A is a 100 foot vegetated buffer along both sides of Jim and Bodenburg creeks. Are these the only vegetated areas in all of Unit A ? if not, disturbance of all vegetated area should be prohibited.

The Alternatives also meed to be expanded to create opportunities for the non-motorized “boater” to recreate without being subjected to the sights and sounds of jet skis, air boats and motorboats. We note that BLM prohibits activity within one quarter mile (1320 feet) of Trumpeter Swan nests from May 1 through August and question whether the proposed 300 foot buffer for May through June 15th is adequate “to protect waterfowl nesting areas”. No protections for other waterfowl nesting areas are offered, though this is a recognized  wetlands area important for many bird species.

In regard to the proposed “Preliminary Management Actions”, we support the  overall management action which will analyze trail impacts to critical fish and wildlife habitat, including wetlands, but oppose exempting the Rippy Trail, proposed loop trail or other trails from this analysis. We strongly recommend, under Actions Common to all Alternatives, that the proposal to allow off-trail use be limited to non-vegetated flood plain areas. Even then, the dust issue affecting residents needs to be considered before authorizing off-trail use. The language would appear to be propose that even vegetated areas could be opened for off-trail use.

We are aware that the initial version(s) of this legislation to form a PUA created a motorized OHV “playground” without regard for the other resources of this area. The version which was enacted created a more balanced PUA, one which recognized non-motorized uses as well as the preservation of wildlife and fish habitat. However, we find that the proposals are skewed toward the motorized concerns. We recommend you provide alternatives which include, in a balanced manner, opportunities for both non-motorized and motorized recreation. Such activity needs to have spatial and/or temporal separation. Key to any management of this area is adequate enforcement. We believe that only through enforcement and restrictions on OHV use can the inherent conflict among the legislative purposes be resolved and all purposes achieved.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

Sincerely yours,

P.O. Box 202592 Susan Olsen, Treasurer

Anchorage, AK 99520 Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition