Low turnout on Chugach National Forest plan meeting

King: Future development should be aligned on what Native people want to do on their own land

Power Creek Cabin is one of 42 remote cabin sites within Chugach National Forest available by reservation for public use. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

In the wake of a Sept. 27 open house in Cordova on future plans for Chugach National Forest, Native Village of Eyak tribal liaison Mark King is reminding area residents that they can still submit comments on the Chugach draft land management plan through Nov. 1.

Just a handful of people turned out for that meeting at the Cordova Center, said King, who expressed surprise at the light attendance.

Still prior to that open house the U.S Forest Service had held a government to government meeting with tribal representatives and King, as tribal liaison to the Forest Service planning committee, had met on a one-on-one basis with agency staff, he said.

At that one-on-one session, King said, he expressed his concerns about how the draft plan and draft environmental impact statement would impact the Prince William Sound and Copper River Delta areas.

“We have lived here for thousands of years in the subsistence way of life and we didn’t need the forest service to build infrastructure,” he said. “I think that future development should be aligned on what Native people want to do on their own land, which is inside of Chugach National Forest.”

Eyak Native Corp. has significant land holdings within that forest and King is concerned about advertising that promotes Chugach National Forest for access to sport fishing, trails, hunting, picnicking and scenic venues.

That website, https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/chugach/about-forest, promotes “stunning landscape stretches across south-central Alaska, from the salty waters and snowy peaks of Prince William Sound to the fabulous salmon and trout streams of the Kenai Peninsula, covering an area the size of New Hampshire. It is one of the few places left in the world where glaciers still grind valleys into the hard rock of the earth,” the website notes.

According to the forest service, some 500,000 people visit various parts of the Chugach every year, taking advantage of 41 public use cabins, more than 500 miles of trail, and the abundance of all five species of Pacific salmon found in forest streams.

The forest service draft plan proposes infrastructure upgrades in areas of the park.

“I’d just like to see it left the way it is,” King said.

“They want to make improvements for local residents to have access to firewood, which we need, and they are taking the public’s advice. It’s not all bad.”

But King is concerned by a huge increase in sport fishing, which he feels will result in the demise of fish available for the commercial and subsistence sectors. Some of those sport anglers are fishing the silver salmon spawning beds, which he said is a big concern.

One thing that came up was winter use of these areas for ski operations, which King has no problem with.

“I look at heli-skiing as real low impact,” he said.

Similar open houses on the draft plan and draft environmental impact statement were scheduled for Hope, Moose Pass, Soldotna, Cooper Landing, Seward and Girdwood in September, Oct. 9 in Anchorage and Oct. 11 in Valdez.

The 90-day public comment period began on Aug. 4 and concludes on Nov. 1. The documents are available online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/chugach/planrevision

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.