The South Central Regional Land Office understands and appreciates the local opinion and frustration that the Kasilof River and proposed Special Use Area is a "local issue." However, as the State land manager responsible for managing public land owned by all Alaskans, the regional land office's obligation is to provide an open administrative process designed to encourage public participation for all significant land use decisions on state land. The purpose of the two previous public informational meetings in Anchorage and Kasilof was to provide information to the public about the draft Kasilof River Special Use Area decision and to encourage public participation and written comments about the draft decision. These meetings certainly accomplished these goals and public turnout at the Kasilof meeting in particular was impressive.
The issues being addressed in the proposed Special Use Area around the mouth of the Kasilof River are land management impacts created by intensive use patterns each summer when two forms of personal use fishing is allowed: set gill net salmon fishing, and dip net fishing. Any resident of the state may obtain a personal use fishery permit and tens of thousands of these permits are issued annually. SCRO has documented interest from state residents who either participate in the fisheries, or visit and enjoy the beach area throughout the year. Written comments have already been submitted from residents of Fairbanks, the Mat-Su Valley, and the Kenai Peninsula. The special management strategy outlined in the proposed SUA decision will bring some much needed attention to the natural resources being affected, and will affect all users of the area, particularly during the personal use fishery. Therefore it is our responsibility to cast as wide a net as is reasonably possible in seeking review and comment on these proposals.
In dealing with management of state land and water my policy is, and has always been, to go the extra mile in seeking and obtaining public review and comment on important management decisions. That is why I decided to provide a 45-day comment period, as opposed to the normal 30 days, and that is why I ordered a press release (which is made available to all media outlets statewide) and posting of notices in post offices up and down the major road system, as well as direct email and hard copy mail to a huge mailing list. The decision to hold a meeting in Anchorage was an attempt to reach users who live in the Greater Anchorage, Matanuska Valley area. Since then, we have been asked to hold a meeting in the valley, and I have granted that request. In deciding to hold this extra meeting I believe I struck a balance between limited time and financial resources and a significant nexus of interested and/or potentially affected users. Extension of the public comment period became necessary in order to allow attendees of the valley meeting a reasonable amount of time to digest what they heard and to offer written comments. Residents of the Kenai Peninsula will benefit from the extension as well. Conducting three public meetings, and conducting public review and comment for almost 70 days, is deemed sufficient to notify the public and allow for public response on the proposed SUA.
When making decisions on state land the SCRO works closely with local governments, and pay close attention to the concerns and needs of local users who usually are most knowledgeable and introspective on the issues. I appreciate everyone's interest in this important management action, and urge those interested enough to provide written comments, to do so prior to close of business on Dec. 10, 2010.
Rick Thompson is the Regional Land Manager in the South Central Regional Land Office of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
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