Bureau of Land Management seeks public comment on management plan for land around Haines and Skagway

(Image courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management)

The Bureau of Land Management is accepting public comment on changes to its Resource Management Plan for land surrounding Haines and Skagway. The department took public comment on the plan in 2018. This year they released three new potential management strategies using that feedback.

The bureau oversees more than 320,000 acres of land in the Haines and Skagway areas. They are seeking public input on what is called the “Haines Amendment” of their regional land management plan. Essentially, this is a contract with the public on how the land will be managed. It will guide land use decisions over the next 15-20 years.

The BLM crafted three plans that represent different ways to balance conservation and recreation uses of the land.

“Alternative G provides for the most balance in the resource needs and uses of the public land,” said Marnie Graham, the Field Manager at the Glennallen BLM office.

“That’s where we landed on the alternative. We looked at all the different stakeholder input and we feels this provides the most balanced approach.”

The big decisions on the table are whether to increase permitted helicopter landings, whether to add special land designations, and if they will lift monitor and control areas for wildlife studies.

Alternative G is the agency’s preference. It significantly increases the number of helicopter recreation landing permits available and opens up previously buffered areas to helicopter recreation. Permitted helicopter landings would eventually increase to 11,000 per year. The agency plans to slowly increase the number of permitted landings over time to monitor the impact on mountain goat health.

Haines heli-ski tour operator Scott Sundberg says his company could make use of additional landing permits on BLM lands.

“On a busy day for us we can have up to fifty landings,” he said. “We have had to reach across the permit aisle to our competitors to ask for their landings because we are the primary users of BLM land.”

Sundberg says the company doesn’t have conflict with mountain goats. He says skiers seek higher altitude slopes with deeper snow packs.

“The real life turn on goats is most of they time they are lower in elevation and in the timber and on Eastern, Southern, or Western slopes where they have more food, sun, and shallower snow packs,” he said. “We’ve never really had this conflict where it’s like ‘Oh, there’s goats here again, we can’t ski out here’ It’s really rare that we actually bump into them out there.”

Yet members of the community, environmental groups and tribal leaders advocated for continued limits on helicopter use to protect the mountain goat population back in 2018.

Goats are also involved in another management choice—whether or not to designate an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, or ACEC.

An ACEC recognizes an area is of cultural significance to federally recognized tribes. In this case, that’s the Tlingit use of mountain goat wool for weaving. Land previously considered for ACEC designation will be managed for recreational use under the agency’s preferred plan. Helicopters will not be permitted in this area in the preferred plan.

Graham says this management plan will maintain the availability of mountain goats and their wool.

“We envision managing this area for back country recreation. Compatible uses would be hunting, wildlife viewing, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. We wouldn’t have helicopter or drone use, but we would allow transporters like fixed wings,” she said.

Graham says they want to complete the public comment process before the end of this year and begin permitting helicopter landings in 2020. She says the most useful comments include how the issue affects the user: “Not just ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’ we need to know why. How is it impacting someone? We hope people will give us detailed comments we can really work with,” she said.

BLM is accepting comments now through August 1, 2019. They will host an Open House event in Haines this summer.

Find more information at www.blm.gov/alaska/rof-haines-amendment

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