April 25, 2014
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is repealing and rewriting every management plan that regulates development in the state’s wildlife refuges, sanctuaries, and critical habitat areas, known collectively as special areas. These areas were established by the Alaska Legislature to protect valuable concentrations of fish and wildlife and their critical habitats from incompatible land uses. Gov. Sean Parnell and his director of Habitat Division, Randy Bates, are revising the regulations in secret, with no public input.
Fish and Game biologists issue land-use permits in accordance with the enforceable regulations in the management plans, which generally encapsulate the advice of experts and public input during the planning process.
Unlike state or national parks, the existing management plans are rarely prohibitive. Most regulations allow activities providing they meet certain criteria, such as protecting critical habitats or avoiding disturbance during nesting or other sensitive periods. Biologists work with permit applicants and other experts to find acceptable conditions that will allow projects to be approved.
Habitat Division’s record is remarkable. From 2008 to 2013 the division received nearly 700 permit applications for land-use activities in special areas. Of these, only four projects -- less than 1 percent -- were deemed incompatible with adopted management plans or regulations.
That’s not nearly permissive enough for Bates. In an October 2013 email, he told his staff to eliminate all regulations that posed “unnecessary burdens to the affected public.” According to Bates, one of the affected publics is people who want to operate jet skis in the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area.