People weigh in on new Chugach National Forest plan

Posted: Monday, November 06, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Sides are lining up on the Chugach National Forest's new management plan and whether the Copper River Delta should be designated a wilderness area.

Forest planners say they have so far received about 12,000 cards on the wilderness designation. Most were printed by the National Wildlife Federation, with the slogan ''Keep it Wild'' in red letters. Hundreds more are handwritten.

''We've spent two years trying to raise the profile of the Copper River Delta because we believe it's a unique place in the world,'' said Tony Turrini, Alaska director of the National Wildlife Federation. ''People are recognizing that.''

The plan recommends setting aside about 2 million acres, including much of the land around Prince William Sound and part of the eastern Copper River Delta, as wilderness.

Originally forest officials had designated more of the delta as wilderness but later cut out about 300,000 acres because of objections from fishermen and local residents in Cordova. Environmentalists complain that the Forest Service has cut out crucial wildlife habitat.

Gary Lehnhausen, the forest's lead planner, said it's unlikely that the postcard campaign will change the Forest Service's mind on the delta.

''This is one area where local concerns will probably outweigh national input,'' he said.

Locally, the topic that is getting the most attention is snowmachine access. It's been the lead topic at a current round of meetings in Southcentral Alaska communities.

''The issue of snowmachining is heating up, especially on the Kenai,'' Lehnhausen said.

The proposed 10-year forest plan suggests closing 11 areas of the forest to snowmachines and placing seasonal restrictions on four more.

The most contested trails and areas include the Twentymile River near Portage, the Lost Lake trail near Seward and the Seattle Creek valley on the south side of Turnagain Arm between Portage and Hope. Seattle Creek would be completely closed to snowmachines, while Twentymile would be closed to snowmachines on alternate years and Lost Lake would be open to snowmachines from December through March.

Other areas that would be closed to snowmachines are Kern Creek, Peterson Creek, Crow Pass, Bear Valley, the west side of Turnagain Pass, Manitoba Mountain, John's Creek, Tiehack Mountain, Skookum Glacier and Winner Creek. Other areas to be shared include Resurrection Pass and Ingram to the Sterling Highway.

Some of those areas, such as Manitoba and Turnagain west, are already closed to snowmachines.

Brant Grifka, a medical administrator at Elmendorf Air Force Base, is one of about 80 snowmachiners who showed up at a meeting in Anchorage this week to argue for more riding areas. He said he's particularly upset about the closure of Seattle Creek and a seasonal closure at Lost Lake trail, which he described as his ''favorite place to ride in the state.''

Jim Adams, president of the Quiet Rights Coalition, said the area closed to snowmachining consists of a small portion of the forest.

''Snowmachiners state a 'no net loss' policy,'' he said. ''The problem with that is there is almost nothing now that is closed to snowmachines.''

While about 90 percent of the Kenai Peninsula would remain open for snowmachines, Grifka and other riders note that some of the most accessible areas have been closed.

Public comment on the plan is open until Dec. 14. More meetings are planned this month for Hope, Seward, Soldotna and Cooper Landing.

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