Congress Comes to Anchorage for Hearing on Alaska's National Parks

Date:   August 14, 2006
Contact:   Jim Stratton, NPCA, 907-277-6722, ext. 23, 907-229-9761 (cell)

Congress Comes to Anchorage for Hearing on Alaska's National Parks

Conservation Group's New Study on Park Wildlife Management Provides Foundation for Testimony, Alaska's Uniqueness Cited as a Major Funding Challenge

ANCHORAGE, AK – At a congressional field hearing today in Anchorage, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) testified about the challenges facing Alaska’s national parks. NPCA cited federal funding shortages made worse by the uniqueness of Alaska and the one-of-a-kind management directions in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) as major concerns. NPCA highlighted national park wildlife management as an example, based on the findings from a new study on park wildlife, Who’s Counting? How insufficient support for science is hindering national park wildlife management in Alaska, commissioned by NPCA and also released today.

The hearing, hosted by Government Reform, Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Mark Souder (R-IN), is the ninth in an unprecedented series of congressional hearings, which have been held across the country to examine the state of America’s national parks.

"Most everything in Alaska is different, even its national parks," said NPCA Alaska Regional Director Jim Stratton. "The parks here have similar funding challenges as national parks across the country—there just isn’t enough money to adequately protect the resources—but there are also these other challenges that are unique to Alaska. A key challenge is balancing congressional intent to provide for both subsistence activities and support hunting with the Park Service’s additional mandate to protect natural and healthy wildlife populations."

NPCA’s Who’s Counting? report, submitted during today’s hearing for the Congressional record, examines the data available to the National Park Service in considering the management of wildlife populations. The report concludes that increased support for park science would yield more informed wildlife management decisions, and calls on the Park Service to increase support for conducting and analyzing population science for hunted species, support regularly scheduled community harvest surveys, and to support a new position for a statewide wildlife data manager.

"Our report demonstrates that timely and scientifically sound population and harvest data and the ability to analyze the information are not always available to park managers," said Stratton. "The lack of data is not an indication of a lack of interest from the Park Service, but rather it underscores the funding shortfalls that affect the entire National Park System."

NPCA is concerned that this lack of data may inadvertently allow the overharvest of some species, which could lead to significant restrictions or closures of key hunted species that would especially impact subsistence users. "Hunting itself is not a threat to park resources," added Stratton, "but, the best way to ensure continued hunting opportunities and provide for natural and healthy wildlife populations, as directed by Congress, is to make sure you know how many animals live in a park and how many are being taken each year. Only with increased support for this critical science can we ensure that national park wildlife populations are unthreatened."

In its testimony, NPCA highlighted funding needs at several of Alaska’s national parks, including Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords, and Denali. NPCA testimony pointed out that the uniqueness of Alaska requires park rangers to patrol by airplane—a cost not often incurred by parks in the lower 48. The skyrocketing cost of aviation fuel, as well as the overall cost of aircraft maintenance and training pilots, is putting at risk the ability of parks to patrol by air.

"With the majority of Alaska’s parks virtually inaccessible except by airplane, the ability to patrol park resources by air is critical, especially for protecting the high quality wilderness backcountry that draws many visitors to Alaska from around the world," said Stratton. "Airplanes, for Alaska’s parks, are the pick-up trucks of parks in the lower 48."

NPCA also thanked Ted Stevens (R-AK) in its testimony today for helping Alaska to make great strides in improving visitor centers, maintenance facilities, and ranger stations at the ten new parks created by ANILCA in 1980. However, NPCA noted more needs to be done to improve visitor experiences, such as finishing the Mary Lowell Visitor Center for Kenai Fjords in Seward and partnering with the state of Alaska to improve the McCarthy Road—the key access road for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve.

Congressman Souder’s series of hearings is the first focused effort by Congress in decades to examine national park funding needs in-depth, and to identify solutions to meeting the challenges. Information gathered during the hearings is being used by Rep. Souder to establish a comprehensive record of the needs of the nation’s parks. Chairman Souder has held hearings previously in Gettysburg, Penn., Washington, D.C., Boston, Mass., Seattle, Washington, Flagstaff, Ariz., San Francisco, Calif., Honolulu, Hawaii, and Miami, Florida. 


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