Request for Reconsideration of Hatcher Pass Management Plan

December 23, 2010

Dan Sullivan, Commissioner

Department of Natural Resources

550 W. 7th Avenue, Suite 1400

Anchorage, AK 99501

Dear Commissioner Sullivan:

Pursuant to 11 AAC 02.030, the Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition requests reconsideration of several aspects of the decision made by Commissioner Irwin on Nov. 17, 2010 in adopting the Hatcher Pass Management Plan. AQRC, a nonprofit , 501(c)(3) statewide organization has been involved, from the beginning, in this effort to  revise the Hatcher Pass Management Plan, attending numerous meetings, testifying and submitting formal scoping comments and comments on the Public Review Draft.

The Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition (AQRC) believes natural sounds and natural quiet are  resources of our public lands that deserve recognition and protection and seeks a fair and equitable share of public lands for non motorized recreational opportunities.

Specifically, AQRC requests reconsideration of:

a) the decision not to close the 22,875 acres of the High Glacier Peaks unit to winter motorized use, and:

b) the decision to open to motorized use 885 acres in the heretofore closed area in the Hatcher Pass Special Use Area adjacent to Reed Creek (Reed Lakes/Little Susitna unit).

A) High Glacier Peaks Management Unit

The basis of our request for reconsideration is our belief that the Commissioner failed to properly interpret the provisions of AS 38.04.200 and, accordingly, believed that this statute prohibited him from closing the area. The question is whether snowmachine visitation to this area meets the definition of “traditional means of access” set forth at  38.04.200(b)(2). At issue are the meanings of “traditional” and “a popular pattern of use has developed”. It is our understanding from the mountaineering community that the first visit by a snowmachine to a hut in this unit occurred in March, 2007. We would argue that this  event occurred too recently to constitute a “traditional means of access” even if in the subsequent three years, others have visited. In contrast, since built in the 1980s, visits to the huts have been accomplished by skiing, snow shoeing and hiking and we would argue that  repetition of an activity over the years is what defines a “traditional means of access” .

Secondly what amount of yearly visitation  needs to occur to establish a “popular patter of use” ? DNR has no accurate measurement of how many snowmachine visits have occurred or when. At best it has anecdotal evidence. Further, DNR has published no standards or criteria to apply to the facts, if they exist, in order to make a judgment that “x” number of years or “y” number of visits qualify as “traditional” or establish “a popular patter of use…”. Absent published criteria, DNR’s judgment in this situation, or any other, is arbitrary and capricious.

It is our interpretation that since snowmachine visitation to this area has not been measured nor criteria established, this situation does not fall within the reach of AS 38.04.200.  Accordingly, we request the Commissioner to reverse his predecessor’s decision. We recommend that he designate, pursuant to 11 AAC 96.014, the High Glacier Peaks Management Unit as  “special use land” due to its unique recreation, historic and scenic resources and make it non motorized year round. Finally, we would point out that should the Commissioner not find our interpretation of AS 38.04.200 persuasive, he could, and should, close areas of less than 640 acres around the huts to motorized access in order to attempt to preserve the mountaineering experience for those wanting to visit the huts in the traditional way. The Issue Response Summary (p. 45) indicates DNR has the authority to make such closures.

B) Opening 885 acres in Reed Lakes/Little Susitna Management Unit to winter motorized uses

AQRC believes opening these acres to winter motorized uses is contrary to a key goal of the plan and increases the inequitable distribution of lands set aside for quiet recreation. For these reasons we request reconsideration of this decision.

A major, if not THE major issue raised in this planning process by the non motorized public was safety. The public comments submitted overwhelmingly requested that the two user groups be separated for the protection of the non motorized  recreationist.  It is our position that  introducing motorized uses into an area historically closed to motorized uses, invites the very safety issues the plan attempts to alleviate. Since the rationale for opening this area is to provide a “play area” for novice, inexperienced drivers of snowmachines, mixing these two user groups is especially troublesome. Secondly, the effect of opening these acres will be  to displace, over time, the traditional user, i.e., the novice, less experienced skier in favor of the novice, inexperienced snowmachiner. On what possible basis can this be considered fair ? We are also convinced that once opened it will be impossible to close to motorized uses due to political pressures and/or application of AS 38.04.200. Accordingly we believe the warning in the List of Approved Revisions that the opening will be reconsidered if there are unlawful incursions of snowmachines into closed areas is an empty gesture. Opening this area will also provide a direct route for snowmachines to access the High Glacier Peaks unit and its huts and the closed Reed Lakes area. In view of the inadequate enforcement efforts to date, opening a new, more distant area to motorized uses is not responsible management.

Maintaining the closure of these acres would help improve, in a very small way, the total imbalance which exists between the number of acres set aside for the two user groups. Under the current plan, 8.76% of Hatcher Pass is closed to winter motorized uses; under the approved plan only 6.08% is so closed.  This means that 91.28% and 93.92%, respectively, of Hatcher Pass is open to motorized uses. In no way can those percentages  be construed to indicate that there is a balance between the opportunities open to non-motorized recreationists and those open to motorized users. In fact, the non motorized opportunities have now been significantly reduced. Despite this inequity, it is  AQRC’s understanding that one reason the 885 acres in Reed Creek was proposed to be opened to snowmachines as a “play area” was to provide some kind of “balance” to the snowmachiners in exchange for the proposed closures of Delia Creek and Marmot Mountain. We question why DNR attempts to maintain the status quo with the motorized community (18,683 acres closed in existing plan and 18,335 closed in the new plan) when the allocation of lands set aside for the two user groups is so disproportionate.  One could argue that to be consistent  in maintaining a “balance”, DNR should apply the existing closure percentage (8.76%) to the expanded Hatcher Pass area included in this plan. This would result in  26,398 acres set aside for the quiet recreationist.

Finally, AQRC urges you to spend some time reviewing the 456 individual, personal comments submitted on the Public Review Draft. The vast majority of these are from non- motorized recreationists and, overwhelmingly, their comments assert that non-motorized and motorized uses are incompatible and must be separated for reasons of safety and enjoyment. These comments clearly do not support reducing areas set aside for non motorized uses in favor of motorized users and do not support mixing the two user groups in the same area.

We request you to reverse the decision of your predecessor and maintain the existing closure of all of Reed Creek. Should you do so, two changes may be necessary to allow snowmachines access to the Archangel unit. Archangel Road will need to continue to be multi-use provided sufficient resources are in place to enforce a strict speed limit. Because safety is such a concern on this road, it will also be necessary to construct a non motorized trail on the East side of Archangel Road so non motorized users have a choice and do not have to utilize the road if they believe it unsafe.

Thank you for this opportunity to seek reconsideration of aspects of the decision approving the Hatcher Pass Management Plan.

Sincerely yours,

Susan Olsen, President

Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition

P.O. Box 202592

Anchorage, AK 99520