Army proposes ban of airboats, off-road vehicles in Tanana Flats

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Army is proposing to ban airboats, four-wheelers and other off-road vehicles in the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks beginning next year.

The restrictions are included in the Army's Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan for the years 2002-2006.

The proposal has angered airboaters and off-road vehicle users who hunt moose on the Tanana Flats in game management unit 20A, the most popular and productive moose-hunting area in the state.

Airboaters, in particular, are upset with the proposed restrictions. The swamp and bog of the Tanana Flats is ideal for airboats, which can skim over the top of the vegetative mat and reach areas other people cannot get to in boats or on four-wheelers.

''How else are you going to get there without an airboat?'' asked Roger Redfern, president of the Interior Alaska Airboat Association. Redfern has hunted the Tanana Flats by airboat for 35 years.

''The Tanana Flats is the only acceptable place to go for airboaters,'' said Ray Heuer, who bought an airboat last winter and found out about the proposed ban Monday. ''That's the only place we can use them.''

Fort Wainwright natural resource coordinator Deb Lipyanic refused to discuss the proposed ban until the public comment period ends Wednesday.

''We don't really know what we're going to do until we get all the comments in,'' Lipyanic said. ''That's part of the process, to get public comment.''

Critics say the Army failed to publicize the proposed restrictions.

Mike Tinker, chairman of the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said there was no mention of the ORV ban when Army officials met with the committee in the spring. The committee found out about the proposal last week when one of its board members uncovered it, Tinker said.

The Army took out ads in newspapers in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Delta Junction over a month ago to notify the public the 200-plus page plan was available for review, Lipyanic said.

The Army also sent out two editions of an environmental resources newsletter to individuals who registered for a hunting, trapping and fishing permit to hunt on military land last year. That information included a list of places where a copy of the plan could be reviewed, a Web site address to review the plan and a fax number for comments, she said. Lipyanic said there had been fewer than a dozen public comments.

Tinker said the advisory committee wrote a protest letter to the Army.

The Army provided no biological or scientific reason for the proposed ban on ORVs, Tinker said. The areas that would be closed are not used by the military.

''I can't see how this affects the Army's mission,'' said Tinker.

Likewise, Tinker said, studies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have shown virtually no impact from airboats and other ORVs in the Tanana Flats.

State wildlife biologist Don Young at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the Army did not inform his agency that it was considering such a ban.

Airboat and ORV use has been contentious at Alaska Board of Game meetings for the past decade.

Five years ago the board created the Nenana Controlled Use Area, a 1.3-million-acre parcel south of Fairbanks in which airboats are prohibited for moose hunting. Prior to that, airboats were banned from the Minto Flats.

''Since we instituted the Nenana Controlled Use Area, they've really been concentrated in the Tanana Flats,'' Young said.

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