Forest Service reduces size of proposed Copper River wilderness area

Posted: Thursday, May 04, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The U.S. Forest Service has reduced the area in the eastern half of the Copper River Delta it plans to designate as wilderness.

The change was made after Cordova fishermen and residents complained about possible restrictions on commercial and subsistence fishing and hunting.

The agency still recommends wilderness designation for an area of mostly mountains and glaciers bordering the delta to the northeast. It deleted a broad band of coastal low country and wetlands.

The original recommendation called for nearly 2.3 million acres to become wilderness. The new proposal reduces the amount by 381 thousand acres.

Forest Service officials announced that and 10 smaller changes in its proposed Chugach National Forest management plan late Monday.

Environmentalists said they are disappointed with the change. They said the Copper River Delta should be set aside as wilderness because it is one of the nation's largest and most productive wetlands.

Wilderness designation would preclude commercial development and place some restrictions on access.

Congress must approve all wilderness recommendations.

Commercial fisherman Jerry McCune said he fears a wilderness designation will result in a situation similar to that at Glacier Bay, where the National Park Service is phasing out commercial fishing.

Jim Adams of the National Wildlife Federation said the fishermen's fears are unfounded. The Forest Service crafted the Copper River wilderness designation to protect commercial fishing and to allow continued use of airboats and helicopters for hunting, fishing and research, Adams said. His group plans to fight the decision.

The Forest Service's draft Chugach management plan is due out in late July, which is when the formal comment period will start. The final plan is due out next winter.

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