Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area in jeopardy?

Posted: Monday, November 13, 2006

Recently, the Clarion reported that the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s federal plan calls for a continued ban on hunting small-game using firearms in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area. To support their decision Jim Hall, deputy manager, of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was quoted as saying, “400,000 people a year are attracted to the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area.” If 400,000 people actually used that area each year, that would be 33,333 people per month or 1,096 people per day or 46 people every hour for 24 hours each day of the year.

Robin West of the Kenai Refuge and Rob Campellone of the Anchorage office were asked, “Where are the statistics that back up this figure? Who gathered the statistics? What statistics were gathered and when? How were the statistics gathered? What type of activities were the users engaged in while in the area? Did most users just drive down the state-owned road?”

Robin West responded that the 400,000 estimated annual user figures came from State DOT figures. The numbers were generated by traffic counters. Further that the number of cars is a precise figure but the actual number of visitors is an estimate of 3 people per car.

Most user’s destination is Skilak Lake and many are pulling a boat. When those axles cross the counter, they are included in the count. Using that method, there would be 1.5 people per axle — even in a boat. If the traffic counters were utilized during a busy three day weekend, that too would skew the figures.

As Robin West stated, “There is no way to determine what activities each visitor was engaged in based on this information.” However, the USF&WS’s preferred plan places more emphasis on nature viewing in the 42,000 acre Skilak WRA even though they do not have credible user statistics to support the need.

Traditionally, Skilak area was used for small-game hunting and yet without surveys to justify their decision, USF&WS has decided that it is of more value as a nature viewing area. In 2005, Campellone said that their 1985 plan is guiding them. However, that plan called for wildlife viewing AND other forms of wildlife-dependent recreation.

An alarming portion of the plan is their negotiation with the State DOT for transfer of Skilak Lake Loop road from state to federal ownership. Federal agencies have an insatiable appetite for Alaska’s state-owned property and if Skilak Lake Loop is transferred to federal ownership, it is conceivable that at some point gates could be placed across the road with possible limited access. Closures would be in the hands of the USF&WS. Fees most likely will follow for all types of usage. Federal can once again trump the State on land they manage and we — the users and taxpayers — will be the losers once more.

What can you do? Before the November 17 deadline, express your views to: Rob Campellone, Planning Team Leader, US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 East Tudor Road, MS 231, Anchorage, AK 99503-6199, (907) 786-3982, Fax: (907) 786-3495, BM_1_

Sondra Hugg


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