Environmentalists protest tourism operation in Haines State Forest

Posted: Wednesday, December 06, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Two environmental groups and a Haines neighborhood association are suing the state Department of Natural Resources over a large-scale tourism operation in the Haines State Forest.

The lawsuit filed Friday contends the department's list of allowable day uses of state land is invalid because it didn't go through a formal rule-making process with a public hearing.

The list exempts certain activities from permit requirements.

In 1998, Chilkat Guides of Haines started flying cruise ship passengers to Glacier Point for a lake crossing in motorized canoes. About 10,000 tourists went to the site this summer.

The airplane flights have disturbed some residents of the rural Chilkat Peninsula, home to a large number of environmentalists. Friends of Glacier Point was formed in response, arguing that traditional users of the Davidson Glacier area have been driven out by the commercial venture.

Friends of Glacier Point, Lynn Canal Conservation and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council are asking Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks for an injunction that would limit the commercial use of the Davidson Glacier area of the Haines State Forest, 10 miles southwest of Haines along the Chilkat Inlet.

''The noise is the biggest problem,'' said Tom Waldo, an attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the three groups, told the Juneau Empire. ''DNR's day-use policy lets tour operators bring in as many customers as they like, without permits, user fees, or stipulations to minimize impacts to public resources. Some great places are being overrun, and it's the Alaska residents who suffer,'' Waldo said.

Chilkat Guides owner Bart Henderson did not respond to the Empire's requests for comment.

This summer, protesters handed out leaflets to tourists at Glacier Point, complaining about the impact on their neighborhood.

Terry Rader, a lands specialist with DNR, said that upcoming revisions to the 1986 land-use plan for the Haines State Forest might address some of the concerns at Glacier Point. But Rader said he didn't know if the agency has the authority to set a limit on the number of tourists who can visit a site.

The new plan probably won't be completed until 2002, he said, which would leave the conflict unresolved during the next tourism season. The state has 40 days to file a formal response, Waldo said.

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