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Lawmakers object to Denali backcountry plan

Posted: Friday, June 06, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) Republican leaders in the state House and Senate have sent a letter to the National Park Service objecting to the proposed Denali National Park backcountry management plan.

They contend the plan limits wilderness access in a way that contradicts the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

''In the plan there were references to restricting access to areas of the park because it could impact somebody's feeling of isolation,'' said Senate President Gene Therriault, R-North Pole. ''When ANILCA was passed ... traditional access was only supposed to be restricted when it was detrimental to the resource itself.''

The backcountry plan is a comprehensive re-evaluation of land use within the park. It's designed to update the last plan, written in 1986.

The plan dictates how the land will be managed for years and could include changes such as a registration and permit systems for snowmachiners, a cap on the number of Mount McKinley climbers and restrictions on air taxi operators.

The plan also could prohibit airplane landings and motorboat and snowmachine use in large swaths of the park.

Therriault and House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said many of the restrictions are based on immaterial aesthetic values, such as solitude. According to Therriault, ANILCA states that park access can only be restricted when the secretary of the Interior determines that access would hurt actual physical resources.

''The only permissible basis for closing any area within Denali National Park and Preserve ... is to make a factual determination that access is detrimentally impacting unit resources,'' reads a May 14 letter from Kott and Therriault to Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson. ''Resources are physical, tangible resources such as fish and wildlife, water, air, soils and vegetation.''

Therriault told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on Thursday that he does not believe solitude should be considered a resource, even if it is an attraction.

''That's a stretch, I would say,'' he said. ''I don't think that was anticipated when the deal was struck with ANILCA.''

Therriault said it would be a mistake and a bad precedent were Alaska to back down on the matter.

The Park Service has been working on the plan for two years. A final plan is expected early in 2004.



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