Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is updating its marine management plan and environmental assessment for the first time since 1984. The document guides decision-making for park management and sets rules for visitors.
Superintendent Philip Hooge said a lot of work went into the draft, but the public shouldn’t expect huge changes at the park. He called the changes “tweaks.”
“I think Glacier Bay is one of those kind of amazing parks where we found the right tool,” he said. “We’ve dealt with a 6% increase (in visitors). But yet, at the same time, you can have the same experience you had in the ‘90s.”
Management at Glacier Bay is unique because visitors mainly experience the park from the water, and the majority of visitors stay on cruise ships. He says the park’s contract system with the cruise ship industry results in some of the strongest environmental standards in the world — so the existing quota system won’t change.
But the park is proposing changes for private vessels. That’s because it says visitor patterns and the environmental conditions have changed since 1984.
“We were having challenges with private vessel permits,” Hooge said.
He said it’s easier for locals to get permits, and some people have figured out ways to game the current system.
“So we did want to try to make those kind of more equitable, you know — still provide recreational opportunities for local people, but provide kind of a more level playing field for people who’ve never been to the park.”
The number of permits per day is proposed to stay the same, but the permit season will be lengthened by two months.
Travis Mingo works for Alaskan Dream Cruises and Allen Marine. He checked in at a public hearing in Juneau this week to see if his company would be affected.
“I don’t think it will,” he said. “It’s good. It doesn’t mean we have to change how we do our business.”
Steve Box is a commercial halibut fisherman who has one of the few remaining licenses in the park. He came by to see how it might change his livelihood.
“The more traffic, the more detrimental it is to the bay overall. So I’m just curious on what their plan was,” he said.
The document is a long one, but park officials say that Chapters 2 and 3 should give the casual reader enough information to understand the changes. The public comment period runs through Dec. 30.
Also, mega-yacht owners should take note that anything longer than 79 feet won’t be counted as a private vessel anymore. They’ll be in the same class as cruise ships.