Wild divide

NPSFormer Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles this week led an exodus from the National Park Service advisory board, and some Alaskans were celebrating.

Welcome to the 21st Century of divisiveness on all fronts.

The Department of the Interior under Secretary Ryan Zinke “showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science, the effect of climate change, protections of the ecosystems, education,” Knowles told Alaska Public Media, the voice of the Public Broadcasting System in Alaska. “And it has rescinded NPS regulations of resource stewardship concerning those very things: biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change.”

So Knowles quit and convinced eight other board members to leave with him.

“Knowles and his ilk are pie-eyed optimists,” Rod Arno, the director of the Alaska Outdoor Council, said Wednesday. The group sent the Department of the Interior a thank you note for convincing Knowles to leave. Arno believes it a waste of time, energy and money for the Park Service to devote much time to the subjects on which Knowles had helped focus the advisory panel.

“The nation won’t preserve wildlife habitat at ecosystem levels, like we were able to do in Alaska with ANILCA 1980, by turning those postage-stamp size national parks Outside into ‘hands off’ laboratories with designs of acquiring more adjacent land jurisdiction just for the chosen scientists collecting data on climate change,” Arno said.

As for climate change itself, Arno didn’t think the Park Service needed much more data.

“We sure as hell don’t need National Park rangers to inform us that something is askew with the climate,” he said. “Look outdoors.”

The temperature in Anchorage on Wednesday was 36 degrees, and much of the state’s largest city was coated in ice after days of rain and the melting of what little snow had fallen earlier in the winter.

The Anchorage norm for the date is 17 degrees with a high of 23 and a low of 11. The National Weather Service forecast suggested the overnight low might possibly get down as low as the normal high. 

The Outdoor Council – a hunting, fishing and outdoor-recreation group – has been regularly at odds with the Park Service, which took over management of a huge swath of the north after passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980. Almost 55 million acres of land, about two-thirds of the land under Park Service authority, is now in the 49th state.

Uneasy neighbors

Parks in the north are wild, undeveloped and of ecosystem scale. The 13.2-million-acre Wrangell St. Elias National Park in Eastern Alaska covers an area the size of Switzerland plus Yellowstone National Park, plus Yosemite Park, and it abuts Glacier Bay National Park, Canada’s Kluane National Park and Reserve, and British Columbia’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers more than 24 million-square-miles.

The Kluane / Wrangell–St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek reserve is bigger than Austria. With so much land protected in Alaska, the Outdoor council doesn’t see the park issues of importance as biodiversity, pollution or climate change, but access.

The organization has been a big supporter of moose hunter John Sturgeon in an expensive, long-running dispute with the Park Service over the use of a 10-foot-long hovercraft on the Kandik River in the seldom-visited Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in Northeast Alaska.

The Park Service reports only 1,146 visitors to that 2.5-million-acre park in 2016, the last year for which data is available. According to the Park Service, only 122,320 people have visited the park in all the years since 1982.

Most of them never leave the Yukon. Sturgeon was the rare oddball who had for years ventured up a Yukon tributary to hunt.

He ran afoul of the Park Service not because his hovercraft was causing environmental damage (it wasn’t), or disturbing others (it wasn’t), but because the use of a hovercraft in the preserve violated an arbitrary rule that long ago banned hovercraft in all the nation’s parks.

Sturgeon went to court with the agency, arguing the state – not the Park Service – has authority over the Kandik, a navigable river. He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and won, only to have the case sent back to the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he again lost. He is now appealing once more to the Supreme Court.

The Ninth Circuit is viewed by many as the nation’s most “liberal” court. Some in Alaska view Knowles as a liberal as well, and thus this story – like almost every other today – ends up tangled in politics.

Listen up

San Franciscan Milton Chen, a former assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education now a fellow at the George Lucas Educational Foundation, told E&E News that he abandoned the 12-member board along with Knowles and seven others because the panel was denied the opportunity to explain its important work on education to the Trump administration.

The panel had advocated for something called the “National Park Service Director’s Order #100. A lengthy, bureaucratic game plan for the management of the country’s national parks going forward, DO #100 defined an educational role for the agency and stipulated it henceforth follow the “Precautionary Principle.”

The PP could be explained simply this way: When in doubt, keep people out.

Former Parks Director Jonathon Jarvis told E&E that recommendations from the advisory board’s science committee “became the basis of DO #100.” Gary Machlis, Jarvis’s former science adviser, added that the advisory board was “absolutely essential to DO #100” and expressed his confidence “Secretary Zinke’s determined effort to weaken the National Park Service and those that support it will ultimately fail.

“Long after he is forgotten, the innovative, smart and strong women of the NPS will be working to protect the national parks for all Americans.”

Park Service protection has not always gone down well in Alaska.

Park rangers in the fall of 2010 threatened to shoot 72-year-old Jim Wilde after he refused to stop so they could inspect his boat in the middle of the Yukon River in the Yukon-Charley Preserve. Wilde, instead, took off, and what happened next became the subject of much debate.

 Wilde testified at trial that he was only motoring away to get to shore where it would be safe for everyone to meet on dry land. The rangers suggested he was trying to flee for the Canadian border, more than 150 miles upriver and beyond the range of his boat without more gas.
The only place to get gas would have been in Eagle, where the Park Service happens to have a ranger station. Whatever the case, it didn’t go that far because everyone met on the beach, where rangers said Wilde charged them.
So they took him down, handcuffed him and hauled him nearly 200 miles away to the nearest jail in Fairbanks where the case eventually went to trial.
In the end, a federal magistrate concluded that it might have been “unwise” for Wilde to follow the orders of the rangers and shut his boat down in the middle of the fast-moving Yukon, but he was legally obligated to do so anyway.
The magistrate then found Wilde guilty of a trio of misdemeanors – interfering with a government agency function, disobeying a Park Service order, and running an unregistered boat – and people in Fairbanks, the largest city in Central Alaska, pretty much exploded.

Nazi Germany

After Wilde’s wife, Hannalore, who grew up in Nazi Germany, compared the behavior of the park rangers to Gestapo thugs she encountered as a child, a whole lot of people jumped on that theme, there to be joined by then Alaska Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and the Alaska Congressional delegation.
Relations have improved only a little since then, and the Outdoor Council, and more than a few other Alaskans, sees “federal over-reach” in almost everything the Park Service does in Alaska.
What looks like a great idea to Knowles, a Yale-educated Democrat who served as governor from 1994 to 2002, looks like an over-reach hammer to the council. They are not alone. Some other organizations have expressed similar concerns.
“This ‘ban first, ask questions later’ principle would allow decision-makers to prohibit lesser-understood activities until future studies shed light on issues of concern,” charged the Access Fund. “Rock climbers are a relatively small minority of National Park visitors, and climbing management is typically lower priority….As we see frequently, rock climbing studies and inventories are constantly postponed or never conducted due to funding challenges, staffing shortages, and land manager attrition.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, led a House-Senate push to block the Obama administration from approving DO #100 because of congressional concerns about the PP.
“Under such a precautionary approach, I am concerned that many of the
roads and allowable activities in our parks today would be under assault,” she wrote the Park Service.  “Traditional lifestyles and tourism economies do not deserve to be put at risk due to management philosophies developed in Washington.”
The National Parks Hospitality Association charged that  in following the advice of its advisory committee the Park Service violated the law that outlines “its dual missions of promotion and conservation, and has instead embraced a policy of no change, exemplified by the new Director’s Order. No change has meant a decline in real use of the national parks.
“Visitation to the same units that existed in 1987 is actually down by 1 million visits in 2015, despite the hype of the centennial. Consider marvelous Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky – down 75 percent in visitation! The often-cited growth in visitation is mostly from four major additions on the National Mall – the World War II memorial, the FDR memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, and the Korean War Veterans memorial. All of those were changes. We need more change, not no change.”

No right answer

At the heart of the issue is the Organic Act of 1916 which set up the Park Service to “promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations…by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The act has been interpreted in all sort of ways over the last 100 years. It was once used to justify predator control in Mount McKinley National Park (now Denali) to maximize the number of moose and caribou there. Predator control was eventually abandoned in favor of turning the park into a research area for studying the natural fluctations in wildlife populations in hopes of understanding what drives them.

From the start of the 20th Century until the start of the Second World War, the Park Service considered feeding Yellowstone bears garbage a way to conserve the bears and provide for the enjoyment of visitors. The latter gathered around the “Lunch Counter for Bears” to watch the show.

“During its first century, Yellowstone National Park was known as the place to see and interact with bears” is how the Park Service now describes the history. “Hundreds of people gathered nightly to watch bears feed on garbage in the park’s dumps.”

As America increasingly urbanized, however, the Park Service became more and more a nature-protection agency. Year by year, it marched steadily down a nature-first, people-second path until the arrival of President Donald Trump and Zinke, a former Congressman from Montana. 

Zinke grew up hunting and fishing in Whitefish, Mont., with a normal, rural Westerners discomfort with government.

”…You should not be afraid to say, ‘The government stops at the mailbox, and if you come any further, you’re going to meet my gun,’” he told Outside Online’s Elliott D. Woods last year.

Woods described Zinke, a Prius-driving former Navy Seal, as holding a “moderate-by-Montana-­standards position on guns and a handful of other issues, including climate change.”

The moderate later became what the Outside headline called “Trumps Attack Dog on the Environment.” Woods’ story is an interesting read, especially his observations on a planned Department of the Interior reorganization:

“To rectify what Zinke views as an imbalance skewed toward agency bureaucrats in D.C., he’s proposed what he’s called ‘the largest reorganization in a hundred years….Right now, all the different services report to their region, and the different agencies don’t align,” he said. “So we’re going to make them all report to their own single region, called a Joint Management Agency.’

“JMAs would be based on ecosystems, not geographic regions, and would, in theory, eliminate redundancies in staffing and allow for more streamlined decision-making. Zinke told me that the JMA idea was inspired by the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, in which a mix of uniforms direct blended teams of elite operators. ‘That’s how we fight wars,’ Zinke told the Denali staff as they chewed on smoked caribou harvested by a ranger. ‘Anticipate about 13 of these JMAs in the U.S.'”

There might be no better way to scare the bejesus out of a bureaucracy than to propose such sweeping changes.  And the heavily top-down DO #100 – with a “scientific literacy” requirement and a plan to back it up that sounds a little like something out of a Maoist manual for “re-education” – would be wholly out of step with those plans.

Zinke has come under a lot of criticism from Interior employees and environmentalists. He is sure to come under a lot more. The country is engaged in the mother of all political battles. Democrat President Barack Obama entered office promising change, but not much changed.

Outlaw Republican President Donald Trump entered office promising to “drain the swamp.” What exactly that means has never been exactly clear, and whether Trump is making any progress is hard to determine, but there is now most certainly water splashing everywhere.

That makes some people angry. It makes others happy.

The path forward would seem as confused as the Park Service’s mission to preserve resources while providing them for public enjoyment.




50 replies »

  1. Craig, Sturgeon’s case concerns the Nation River, not the Kandik River, though both run through Yukon Charley.

    • Chris:
      You are correct. There are lots of comments. That’s for sure. But 3/4 of them are from just you, Stine, and Yankee. Must be nice to have that much time available to devote to comments.

      • Bill Yankee:
        If I were making the comments that you sometimes post, I would not want my name associated with them. Surprised that you want to let everyone know. Especially the ones that really make no sense. After all, it does remove all doubt one might have about the author.

      • Well AF just because you don’t understand them doesn’t mean they make no sense. Next time one of those comes up just speak up and I’ll explain the post to you.

  2. Every Sha La La La and every Whoa Oh Oh Ohhhh. Still Shines…….Every ShingalIng aling aling they are starting to sing………

  3. so much life ahead
    so much room to grow
    we’ve only just begun
    to live…….
    before the rising sun
    we fly
    so many roads to choose
    we start off walking
    and then learn to run.

    • What? Chris, do you allow visitors to your planet, or merely contact us with cryptic messages decipherable only by the converted and abducted?

  4. Free Speech: Even though Karen and Richard Carpenter were both anorexic they could still perform classic music.I guess we should thank them for giving up their bodies for art.

  5. When Trump calls out CNN, an “Enemy of the State” he is not that far off. Certainly the media has been controlled by a certain political viewpoint. So my take is that they say they are fair but they are really not. An “Enemy of the Truth” might be a better way to describe it.

  6. One of the greatest days in my life was when Sarah Palin defeated Tony Knowles. That was the birth of the Tea Party movement. We fought back against the socialists and fascist insiders that controlled the media and the narrative and the deep state government. We still have bag men (and women) like Bill Sheffield and Alice Rogoff running around trying to preserve the Deep State Alaska. My advice, whatever Bill wants – we should do the exact opposite!

    • I have hanging in my kitchen a signed poster of Sarah Palin sitting in one of my dogsleds for a Library celebration of “The Great Serum Race.” I only got involved because I happened to have a dogsled that she needed-I got to shake her hand at the photo shoot and she seemed quite excited about the whole event. This was before her head outgrew her body when John McCain selected her as his running mate, by the way.
      Sarah ran for Governor as a social conservative but she didn’t govern that way initially, at all. In fact, she collaborated with the Dems. to get her oil tax bill done and I’m surprised the Oil cos. tollorated her selection as a heartbeat away from John. After the national election, Sarah was never able to get her groove back IMO.

      • The way the photo shoot took place, Steve, was she sat in the sled with a copy of the library book and several of her colleagues brought their dogs to be put into the shoot separately. She might have needed a bull-whip if they would have let the dogs loose while she was sitting at their level. I brought along a husky that got into the poster but the rest were various breeds (not usually considered sled dogs). They didn’t want all those dogs licking her in the face IMO.

      • I have no problem with hunting as a food source.
        Now commercial trophey hunting of the same species by out of state money bags is different.
        Especially when there are not enough “legal” moose in an area for subsistence.

      • There is only in your mind a difference between out of state hunters and in state ones. The meat has to be salvaged in either case and the regulations are set so that the overall hunt works out. Were Alaska to have continued its increased population growth, there would have been some problems IMO between subsistence and sport hunters. I suspect we have dodged a bullet with our economic problems, relative to game populations. On the other hand, more folks just might need the meat, but I suspect those in dire need will just move South (where the jobs are).
        Many moose hunts require a 50 inch or better antler spread in order to keep enough bulls in the herd. Some might consider this a sort of trophy hunt, as these bulls are not what you would call the best eating, but there is a lot of that eating. These bulls are probably five years old and older and most likely weigh over 1000 lbs. It takes a pretty large family to eat one of these bulls in one year, so most folks share their moose (probably with those who helped pack it out).
        While some trophy hunters have their meat hauled out by an outfitter, that puts money into our economy with much of that meat going to those needing it (assuming the hunter doesn’t want all of the meat). Our wanton waste laws have made it difficult to waste game meat IMO. You think things are different now, but my opinion is that the old days were where most of the meat was left in the field (for trophy hunters) and then that trophy hunter would be able to take a grizzly who took possession of that meat a few days later. No doubt that there will always be some who will waste meat but I’m a moose hunter and my friends and I waste none of it. Those big bulls might be a bit chewy, but they are still pretty great IMO.

      • There is a huge difference between locals hunting moose in their backyards for food and the 20 thousand dollar moose hunts that kill the largest bulls.
        Who even knows if these large bulls have stopped breading?
        If the rules were different and we could only take smaller bulls and more cows, then the foreigners would not come up here to hunt.
        Sure, the government loves when everyone leaves the state to find jobs elsewhere because the economy sucks and we cannot even legally shoot the moose behind our house to feed our family.
        Walker and his neo con buddies would rather issue food stamps and give the trophey moose to his out of state goon buddies.
        This year I had more aerial traffic than ever above me during hunting season and one guide in Willow helped out of state hunters shoot 7 large bulls on the Yentna..
        Did he eat all 7?
        Could the packers eat 7?
        Do they leave carcasses and shoot grizz the next day still…yes.
        You for one should know law enforcement in the bush is not very effective in Alaska.
        Without a complaint and complaintant, AST rarely leaves the ground to fly out and look around.
        That is why NPS rangers patrolling the preserves is helpful to maintain our wildlife stocks.

      • Steve, it is my opinion that you are living in a dream world.
        That said, those large bulls are not done breeding, no question, but unlike say salmon (where those trophy fish don’t get to breed at all), those bulls have already passed on their genes to some extent. In some cases, cow shoots are warranted when the population needs culling but for the most part our moose hunts involve bulls (those with increased antler spreads are due to more hunters than legal bulls).
        There are always different opinions on how to regulate moose but my money is on the biologists at F & G, along with the B of Game. Their positions involve the best science available at the time and they have a great record IMO.
        You don’t agree! That’s your right.

  7. Reading a few of Tony’s past articles he wrote for ADN, I cannot help thinking he is at odds with his own beliefs.
    How can we as a state have more oil and gas production, while still protecting the “Natural Environment”?
    Pipelines “corridor off” wildlife migration patterns and the spills associated with this oil & gas paradigm are detrimental to fish and game. (Remember Exxon Valdez)
    I do think he had some good ideas, but he is not willing to “grab the tiger by the balls”.
    Buffer zones help wolves, but not nearly as much as it would help if the state stopped supporting aerial slaughters of wolf with machine guns…yes, “assualt rifles” are used in small private hired airplanes as is aerial collars and many other techniques which give wolf packs little chance of survival.
    As for the Park Service, it is refreshing to have someone to help push back the commercial guiding industry, since without rangers in the field to monitor activity, I believe the fall slaughters of outside guided hunters would be even more desicrating to Alaska’s wildlife populations.
    Government comes in many forms up here. Muni…Borough…State….Federal.
    Anyone who thinks Alaska is outside the reach of government is a fool.

      • Looks like the Knowles administration traded in the rifle for the scalpel?
        Sure he stopped “lethal” aerial shooting, but instead they darted Alpha members of the pack …”Sterilized” them, then relocated them away from their offspring and pack survival structure.
        So, in essence, wolf control did not cease on his watch.
        Looks like a lot of “double talk” out of the Knowles camp.

      • Wolf-control has not ceased on anyone’s watch, as long as I can remember. It’s waxed and waned over the years but the crux, namely that wolves don’t just harvest the old and sick, continues to be that limited wolf-control can (and does) protect and enhance our ungulate populations.
        By the way, Steve, machine guns are not used in any wolf-control that I’ve followed. Perhaps 25 years ago we had a Director of Game (Kellyhouse) who thought it a good idea to allow the Dept. to shoot wolves from helicopters with machine guns and he was nick-named Machine Gun Kellyhouse. That was only a proposal that didn’t happen.

      • Ok…maybe machine gun was not the best description.
        How about assualt rifle?
        Would you say they are currently being used?
        Like Mini 14 and AR15 type actions?
        I would not see these guys using a bolt action?
        Just seems a bit excessive, since we already have the legal ground shooting almost open all year in a lot of areas, then there is the trapping season as well for wolves.

      • Assault guns (whatever those are) are allowed for ariel hunting but I’d be surprised if they are used. It was always shotguns (with buckshot) that were used in years past and I suspect that is still the case. Maybe someone has tried using a bump stock on an AR-15 type gun, just for drill, but I doubt it would catch on. The point of these wolf-control areas is to harvest a certain number of wolves, not to create some kind of “fair-chase” hunt.
        Further, allowing hunters to shoot these surplus wolves in certain areas, doesn’t cost the State the big bucks to hunt and shoot them. The Yukon govt. stopped their wolf-control hunting because of cost, and as far as I know they haven’t started it back up.

      • I think the wolf makes a good enemy for white man, cause without aerial assualt, complete with shotgun and carbine, the traps and hunters still cannot “control” this wild beast.

      • Wolf-control is only done in special areas that, for various reasons, ungulate populations cannot rebound without it. It’s not done because of any kind of white man’s enemy, in fact you will find that many Native communities get behind wolf-control because they depend on those ungulates more that most white men.
        There are probably as many wolves today as there have been since we have been involved in wolf-control (that was the consensus of Yukon govt.) so the idea of this “wild beast” that needs controlling is absurd IMO. Occasionally the numbers of wolves (in certain areas) need to be reduced for ungulate populations to recover and when that recovery occurs, the wolves benefit along with hunters. Wolves tend to recover quickly when their food source is healthy but ungulate populations sometimes cannot rebound without reducing their predators (including wolves).

      • Bill,
        Wolf control is very “one sided” in the equation.
        When you say ungulate, it is mostly moose.
        Why not limit commercial hinting in these areas when numbers are down?
        Why not stop aerial spotting of Bull moose during season?
        The guided party also does not prey on the sick and injured of the ungulate herd.

      • Most hunting is stopped in those areas, there is no commercial hunting in the state. Very hard to stop Potlatch hunting of moose when an elder dies in all areas but I suspect it is looked down on. Moose is a favored food of most wolves South of the Brooks Range but pretty exclusively caribou North of it.
        Wolves, as well as us, are the predominant predators of those ungulates. Wolves are necessary to keep our herds healthy but they are expendable when the herds are in trouble. The herds are then able to bounce back and the wolves also bounce back quickly keeping the overall ecosystem healthy. It’s not rocket science.
        By the way, moose is the perfect food for wolves. If we didn’t take approximately 9-10 thousand moose per year, the wolf population could be greater than it is, no doubt. That said, it’s a trade-off IMO and I’m in favor of healthy populations of both predators and prey. And to keep them healthy they have to be managed IMO.
        There are restrictions on ariel spotting and drones are prohibited. Same day shooting as flying is prohibited but hard to stop someone from flying around looking at moose (tourists do it all the time).

  8. The constitution doesnt give the Federal Gov the authority to confiscate lands for parks. Return the lands to the states and the people therein.

    • Unfortunately, giving control of National Parks to the state would not work in Alaska. Alaskans are too dumb and corrupt. Soon the park land would be like the Denali Highway. Where redneck BOG management allows hunts of every conceivable kind to decimate wild game. And the land would be ruined by a web of muddy ATV trails.

      • There are plenty of states that would be happy to have another lefty genius like you and you wouldn’t have to deal with “dumb and corrupt” Alaskans. If you don’t like Alaskans, get the Hell out.

      • Way to go Art. Play the “lefty” and “get the hell out” cards when you can’t, as usual, come up with a rational thought. Apparently you never leave your LazyBoy and visit places in Alaska like the Denali Highway during hunting season. If after witnessing that you can’t say game management in Alaska is dumb anf corrupt, then you spent way too much time employed by the dumb and corrupt.

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