Alaska Regional Director
National Parks Conservation Association
Re: “National Parks of Alaska”
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources
of the House Government Reform Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
August 14, 2006
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about the national parks of Alaska. My name is Jim Stratton. I am the Alaska Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). Prior to joining NPCA, I spent eight years as the Director of Alaska State Parks and 11 years as the Program and Finance Director of the Alaska Conservation Foundation. I serve on the board of the Great Land Trust, a private, non-profit land conservation organization founded in 1995 by residents of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, which works with willing landowners and other partners to conserve Southcentral Alaska’s lands and waterways. I also serve on the board of the Denali Foundation, an education leader in the Denali region established to develop and implement research, education, and communication programs that benefit the Denali bioregion and our state of Alaska.
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System for present and future generations. Today, we have over 300,000 members nationwide who visit and care deeply about our national parks.
Alaska’s National Parks and ANILCA
Most everything in Alaska is different, even its national parks. At 54 million acres, Alaska’s 15 national parks, monuments, and preserves—more than any other state—represent nearly two-thirds of the entire National Park System and 80 percent of America’s national park wilderness.
While Alaska’s first national park was created in 1910 at Sitka, Alaska’s park system expanded greatly in 1980 with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). ANILCA created 10 new National Park Service units in Alaska and increased the size of three of existing park units: Glacier Bay, Denali and Katmai. This required an immediate infusion of staff and infrastructure to support these new parks, some of which are larger than some eastern states. There were definite growing pains as park management strategies and policies that worked well in the Lower 48 were found needing improvement and modification to fit both the unique physical environment in Alaska, and the unique governing language in ANILCA that sets Alaska’s parks apart from the remaining 375 found in the Lower 48. These challenges include guaranteed access for traditional activities with snowmobiles, motorboats, and airplanes; subsistence use of park resources for food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and fuel; sport hunting on 19 million acres of national preserve lands; the lack of road access to nine of the state’s 15 parks; guaranteed access to inholdings subject to reasonable regulations; and a vast expanse of parklands that require different modes of transportation, such as small aircraft, for basic park operations.
Navigating these unique challenges, and meeting the intent of Congress to provide for access and subsistence while staying true to the Organic Act and the park protection purposes found in ANILCA, is difficult. In many cases, because ANILCA is a young bill at only 25 years old, the Park Service and park advocates are still trying to determine just what Congress intended. What is a “traditional activity?” What kind of access to inholdings is really allowed? How can we provide for sport and subsistence hunting and also provide for natural and healthy wildlife populations? These are not easy questions and the answers are still emerging. Moreover, implementing this unique language has created demands on the Park Service’s limited operating budget.
Alaska Park Funding at a Glance
When reviewing the base operating budgets of the national park sites in Alaska you find a similar trend to the budgets of parks across the country – the base operating budgets are just not keeping pace with park needs. As a result, Park Service superintendents are forced to make difficult decisions on what programs and services to reduce. The parks in Alaska are all facing a flat budget this year, Fiscal Year 2006, receiving on average an increase of 2.8 percent (not adjusted for inflation) above Fiscal Year 2005. The Fiscal Year 2007 request finds the parks facing an even smaller increase, with Alaska’s national parks slated to receive on average only a 1.3 percent increase, far below the rate of inflation (Appendix 1). Additional strain is caused by the budget impact of those aspects of park management unique to Alaska, such as the size and remoteness of the state’s 15 national parks.
Across-the-Board Cuts Hurt the Parks
Across-the-board (ATB) cuts mandated by Congress to pass final appropriations bills over the past few years have had a significant adverse impact on our national parks. Overall, two ATB cuts applied to the Fiscal Year 2006 Interior Appropriations legislation cost the National Park Service approximately $25 million in base operating funding, resulting in a final increase to park operations in Fiscal Year 2006 of only $35 million, or 2.1 percent, the smallest increase in memory. Alaska’s national parks are not immune from the consequences of these ATB cuts. Over the past two years, these mandated cuts have decreased funding for Alaska’s parks by over $1 million. In Fiscal Year 2005, ATB cuts resulted in a loss of over $525,000 to Alaska’s parks, and in Fiscal Year 2006 another $569,000 (Appendix 2).
Park Operations Funding Unsustainable
While the parks in Alaska have so far managed to operate under the current fiscal budget constraints facing the Park Service, it is only a matter of time until these insufficient budgets result in severe consequences for both resource protection and visitor services. Already, some of these consequences are beginning to show.
For example, Denali opened its new state-of-the-art visitor center at the park entrance in 2005—a $34 million endeavor. The building was a model in sustainable design, receiving the U.S. Green Building Council’s Silver rating, the highest rating in the state. Despite the design of this award-winning building, sufficiently staffing the visitor center is problematic. Fortunately for the park, the Eielson Visitor Center at mile 66 on the Park Road was simultaneously closed for reconstruction. As a result, staff from Eielson were reassigned to the new visitor center at the park’s entrance. But how will the Park Service staff the new visitor center when Eielson is reopened next summer?
The parks’ core operations analysis, the Park Service Scorecard, business plan implementation, and other means to identify and address efficiencies in the Park Service, while playing an important role in the budget process, do not reverse the disturbing trend of reduced annual funding increases for our national treasures.
The current level of park operations in Alaska cannot be sustained under existing budget constraints. Denali, Wrangell–St. Elias, and Glacier Bay are the first parks to feel the pinch. In the short term, some of the budget strain is being met by reducing the length of “subject to furlough” employees. Park staff that had been working 10 or 11 months are now working seven or eight. As a result, seasoned park staff, many of whom are Alaskans, will not be able to keep those jobs because the positions simply do not pay enough. As seasoned Alaskans leave those positions, they will be filled by less experienced people, many of them from Outside the state. While we do not discourage anyone from coming to our great state and working for the Park Service, our preference is that Park Service jobs, which provide a basic living wage, should be filled be those with experience and the local perspective valuable to working in an Alaskan national park.
You Can Only Get Here by Airplane
Because of their vast size, remote nature, and lack of road access, parks in Alaska are best accessed by aircraft. Small airplanes are standard park vehicles in Alaska – just like pick-up trucks are to Lower 48 parks. Airplanes are used for ranger patrols, ferrying supplies to ranger stations, search and rescue, scientific research and monitoring, and basic transportation of staff from one side of a park to another.
Even Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias (WRST), the only two natural resource parks with any appreciable road access, require aircraft to patrol and monitor the majority of the park’s backcountry—which is not road accessible. This is one of the big differences between Alaska’s parks and those in the lower 48 states. Without aircraft, all of the remote parks and much of Denali and WRST would not benefit from resource protection provided by park rangers. At risk are park resources like wildlife, clean streams, and the signature scenic beauty that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to Alaska’s parks each year. At risk is the ability to perpetuate subsistence, another unique aspect of parks in Alaska, for those residents that live close to or within park boundaries.
The recent cost increase in aviation fuel, coupled with the overall increasing cost of maintaining aircraft, are causing parks to reduce or eliminate the amount of time they spend in the air. This is yet another increased cost affecting the operating budgets of Alaska’s national parks.
Business Plan Shows Critical Funding Shortfalls
One example of the funding shortfall facing Alaska’s national parks is found in a 2004 Business Plan for Denali National Park and Preserve, which concluded, “Our current funding is not sufficient to meet our operational needs.” At the time, Denali was operating with a $14.1 million budget, yet $18 million was needed to meet existing operating standards, resulting in the park facing a $3.9 million (28 percent) annual funding shortfall. The report found that the funding shortfall was having the greatest affect on aviation services, science and wildlife research, programs in visitor services, and the maintenance of roads, trails, utility systems, and buildings in the park—all critical components to the day-day operations at Denali. The report found that over the past 20 years, Denali’s appropriated base budget had grown at a compound annual rate of only 1.8 percent, after accounting for inflation. As a result, the park was forced to increasingly fund park operations with potentially non-recurring funding. This unsustainable practice decreases the financial stability of the park, as well as its ability to engage in long-term strategic planning.
More Funding for Science Needed: Hidden Treasures
Because Denali and other national parks do not have adequate funding to conduct needed science and research, treasures such as dinosaur tracks go routinely unnoticed and unprotected. Just this past spring, a second fossilized dinosaur track was found in Denali National Park. This follows on a roughly 70 million-year-old dinosaur tract discovered in June 2005 by a University
of Fairbanks student. These exciting discoveries emphasize the need to fund programs like the Park Service’s Natural Resource Challenge, a program intended to increase science in the parks and provide park managers with the information needed to understand and measure the condition of resources in the parks. Five years ago, the Natural Resource Challenge was funded at approximately $20 million annually; the program is currently slated to receive only $1 million in the Fiscal Year 2007 budget.
More Funding for Science Needed: Sustaining Subsistence
Congress made it clear that residents living close to or within boundaries of park units in Alaska (with the exception of Katmai and Glacier Bay park lands, the original Mt. McKinley National Park, and Kenai Fjords National Park) would be open to the hunting and gathering of subsistence resources necessary to perpetuate a traditional rural lifestyle. This includes resources not only to eat, but also for clothing, firewood, medicine, and shelter. At the same time, Congress charged the Park Service to provide for subsistence in a manner that does not diminish the purposes and values for which the park was originally created.
But providing the balance between perpetuating park resources and providing for subsistence has budget implications.
The Park Service has to work with local villages to identify and meet subsistence needs and then participate in the Federal Subsistence Resource Commission, the entity that sets subsistence guidelines. The Park Service needs to know the status of subsistence resources and how much is being consumed and used by local residents. This takes research and monitoring funds. In the case of wildlife resources, NPCA has identified that the Park Service has insufficient funding for gathering even the most basic wildlife harvest data. Without this data, there is no way of knowing the health of hunted wildlife populations, such as moose and caribou. There is a potential threat to the long-term sustainability of local subsistence if too many animals are harvested. The only way to ensure Congressional intent to manage for both natural and healthy wildlife populations and provide for subsistence needs is to know how much of the resource is being consumed.
State of Denali: Underfunded Cultural Resource Protection
NPCA’s 2003 Center for State of the Parks assessment of Denali National Park and Preserve found that the park’s overall stewardship capacity—the Park Service’s ability to protect park resources—rated 64 out of a possible 100. The park needs money for critical staff positions as well as natural resource studies, inventories, and evaluations of Denali’s important cultural resources to better protect the park. The report revealed that Denali’s cultural sites, which hold may hold clues to how the Americas were populated, are largely unknown and unprotected. Denali’s often-overlooked cultural resources, like the above-mentioned dinosaur tracks, received a “poor rating” of 56 out of 100. Of particular concern are the park’s archaeological sites. Without a full-time archaeologist and adequate funding, most sites remain unexamined, unprotected, and unappreciated by visitors. According to NPCA’s assessment, Denali also lacks a full-time museum curator, so 88 percent of the park’s 340,000 archival documents, including historic photographs, are not processed and are inaccessible to researchers, staff, and park visitors.
Funding Park Infrastructure in Alaska’s National Parks
Prior to 1980, Alaska only boasted three natural resource parks, Mt. McKinley, Katmai and Glacier Bay, and two cultural resource parks, Sitka and Klondike Gold Rush in Skagway. All totaled, these five parks encompassed about 7.6 million acres. When President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act on December 2, 1980, the number of parks increased to 15 and the acreage soared to 54 million.
Although many of these park units were established as remote parks, monuments, and preserves, and they carry the added designation as Wilderness with the intent that there would be no facilities constructed, managing park operations, protecting park resources and administering the unique aspects of Alaska’s parks requires some facility development in order to provide some level of recreational access and interpretation to the visiting public.
Twenty-five years ago there were no park headquarters, visitor centers, or ranger stations in Wrangell-St. Elias, Gates of the Arctic, Yukon-Charley Rivers, Lake Clark, Bering Land Bridge, Noatak, Kobuk Valley, Cape Krusentstern, Aniakchak, and Kenai Fjords. And, with the passage of ANILCA, the visitor demand increased with the expansion of Denali, Katmai and Glacier Bay, causing the facilities at those three older park units to become inadequate. The infrastructure necessary to support management, access, resource protection, and visitor services in Alaska’s national parks had to all be built at once. Senator Ted Stevens, recognizing that national parks are a viable addition to the infrastructure of a young and growing state, has consistently provided funds for such things as new visitor centers at Wrangell-St. Elias, Denali, and the Western Arctic Parks. He’s provided administrative facilities at Port Alsworth for Lake Clark and Bettles for Gates of the Arctic. And staff housing has been improved – including the removal just last year of tent cabins at Lake Clark and finally replacing them with real cabins for permanent summer staff. Funding was also made available for permanent staff housing in Eagle for YukonCharley.
The level of capital construction funds available to Alaska parks is appropriate given the number, young age, and growing visitation to Alaska’s parks. Still, the job isn’t complete.
Kenai Fjords is in dire need of completing its Mary Lowell Visitor Center. Land has been secured, agreements have been signed with partner agencies such as the Forest Service and Alaska State Parks, and the design has started. But it can’t happen soon enough—Kenai Fjords is one of the most visited parks in Alaska.
After years of discussion, a decision has been reached on where to site a new visitor center on the south side of Denali National Park. Partnering agreements have been signed with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Alaska State Parks, but construction funds are still needed.
Reconstruction and reuse of the historic buildings in the popular Kennecott Copper Mine in Wrangell-St. Elias is making the mine safer for visitors and is also bringing welcomed employment and helping local residents benefit from living in a national park. Funding this important historical reconstruction needs to continue.
Transportation Needs in Alaska’s National Parks
Senator Stevens was successful in bringing additional Park Road and Parkway (PRP) funds to Alaska in SAFETEA-LU, the last version of the federal highway bill, but the Park Service seems stymied by its own internal policies, which they claim are restricting their ability to work on McCarthy Road, which provides the primary access to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
In this case, special attention must be given to developing a partnership with the state of Alaska, as the park’s primary access along the McCarthy Road is owned by the state, not the Park Service. But the Park Service needs to be given the permission to participate as a partner with the state of Alaska to improve this road.
While it seems to be the policy of the Park Service to limit the use of PRP funds to only Park Service-owned road assets, we cannot find anything in our reading of the Section 204 (b) that would prevent the Park Service from using its funds on a non-NPS road. In fact, our reading of 204(b) of the U.S. Code’s Title 23 is that it was precisely written so that situations like the McCarthy Road could be addressed with PRP funds. Congress gave the Park Service, and other federal agencies, the authority to use their funds to provide access to their areas, regardless of road ownership.
We’ve done further investigation into the use of PRP funds beyond the language in 204(b) and found in the Park Service Transportation Planning Guidebook, which is the Park Service’s policy for spending federal highway funds, further evidence of NPS discretion to use PRP funds as we suggest. In Chapter 6 on page 100, the list of PRP eligible projects includes “Any project providing access to or within a National Park or other federal lands.” It does not limit projects to only Park Service owned access. It says “ANY project…TO or WITHIN a National Park.” And it provides further guidance by saying funds can be used for construction of “public road facilities (i.e. visitor centers).” Toilets, picnic tables, and interpretation clearly fit the description of “public road facilities.”
In the case of the McCarthy Road, NPCA has advocated with the Alaska Region of the Park Service that they use their PRP funds for roadside amenities rather than using Park Service funds to actually work on the road surface. The Alaska Department of Transportation has allocated funds to improve the road and is working on an Environmental Impact Statement for a wholesale road upgrade. Instead, we are advocating using PRP funds to improve the road experience, hence the park experience, by investing in toilets, picnic tables, and interpretation. Some of this work has been funded through other Park Service funding channels and several waysides are being planned. But we feel more discretion can be given to the Alaska Region to use PRP funds to make a significant improvement in access to Wrangell-St. Elias along the McCarthy Road.
Unnecessary Access Proposals
But not all forms of access being proposed into Alaska’s parks are needed or wise. The Governor of Alaska continues to push for a second road to Kantishna on the north side of Denali National Park and for a boat dock at Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay. Both of these proposals are not necessary and if they were completed, would put an additional burden on the park’s operating budget with no additional benefit to park visitors or resource protection.
In 1997, a North Access Feasibility Study estimated that construction costs of a road or railroad from the current end of the Stampede Road to Kantishna in Denali National Park & Preserve to cost $87 - $213 million. This excludes the cost of railroad cars or the construction of any support or visitor facilities. At the time of this study, the Park Service calculated they could pay for all their high-priority construction projects in all Alaska national parks for 10 years for less money than this one project. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a national organization based in Washington, D.C., listed Denali North Access as one of America’s most wasteful highway projects.
In 1998, former senator, now Governor Frank Murkowski, succeeded in dedicating $1.5 million in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) to “construct North Denali access route.” In 2001, the State of Alaska approved the necessary match and the latest round of planning has begun. NPCA continues to oppose this road because of its redundant nature, the impact it would have on park resources, and the expensive draw it would have on Denali’s annual operating budget. The Park Service is also on record as opposing this road saying that other projects for improving access to the park, like the recently agreed-to new visitor center on the south side, are more beneficial investments in park infrastructure.
A challenge facing Glacier Bay is about where to best locate a dock for the local gateway community of Gustavus. The local community is eager to repair and expand the old, existing dock at Gustavus to provide for barge and ferry service. The National Park Service, NPCA, and others think the new Gustavus dock should be in Gustavus where it can directly serve the needs of the local community. However, Governor Frank Murkowski has historically advocated meeting Gustavus’ ferry service and barge needs with a new Bartlett Cove dock that is 12 miles away from Gustavus and inside a national park. The Governor’s desires would require demolishing the existing Park Service campground and placing an industrial port facility immediately adjacent to the Glacier Bay Lodge and Park Service Ranger Station. Should this concept come to fruition, it would add an increased burden on the park operating budget and greatly diminish the natural area around the park’s only concession lodge, thus creating an atmosphere that is not conducive to visiting one of Alaska’s premier national parks.
Acquiring Inholdings in Alaska’s National Parks
There are millions of acres of inholdings within the boundaries of national parks throughout the nation. Funding to acquire these inholdings is critical for the long-term protection, management, and interpretation of our national parks. Unfortunately, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the principle source of funding for federal land acquisition, has seen a dramatic decrease in funding levels in recent years. Despite accumulating $900 million annually from designated sources, primarily oil and gas leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), amounts appropriated through the LWCF have been far below this authorized level. According to a July 2006 Congressional Research Service report, “Land and Water Conservation Fund: Overview, Funding, History, and Current Issues,” only half of the $29 billion accredited to the LWCF from its inception in Fiscal Year 1965 through Fiscal Year 2005 has been appropriated. This funding is critical to making our national parks whole and acquiring inholdings is an important part of protecting and managing many of the 390 park units. Managing parkland that is checkerboarded with private property can often be more burdensome and expensive than caring for a uniform and contiguous area.
LWCF funding for the National Park Service has dropped significantly in recent years, from $130 million five years ago (Fiscal Year 2002) to only $34 million today (Fiscal Year 2006). The Fiscal Year 2007 request further decreases this funding to only $22 million and includes acquisition funding for only one national park unit. This hinders the ability of the Park Service to acquire and protect significant and strategic parcels of land from willing sellers across the nation. As a result of insufficient LWCF funding appropriated, a significant land acquisition backlog has developed. According to the July CRS report, the Park Service estimates the cost of its acquisition backlog after Fiscal Year 2006 at $1.8 billion.
There are about 3.3 million acres of inholdings remaining in Alaska’s national parks. Many of these are in critical locations for both natural and cultural resources and it would be in the best interest of the Park Service to secure them, if possible. Many inholdings in Alaska’s parks are available from willing sellers. All it takes is funding and a little flexibility with appraisals.
One example of a national park in Alaska in need of significant LWCF funding is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, America’s largest national park. Bigger than Switzerland, the three mountain ranges that make up Wrangell-St. Elias cause it to be referred to as “the mountain kingdom of North America.” Nearly $5 million in LWCF appropriations have been secured over the last three years ($2.5 million in Fiscal Year 2004, $1.5 million in Fiscal Year 2005, and $750,000 in Fiscal Year 2006) toward the acquisition of inholdings at Wrangell to provide for increased public access and protection of lands. However, future funding needs are estimated at $175 million to acquire over 730,000 acres within the boundary of Wrangell-St. Elias.
NPCA’s Alaska regional office has completed a comprehensive inventory of all inholdings in the 13 natural resource-based parks (historic parks in Sitka and Skagway were not included). The study identified more than 3.3 million acres of privately held land within existing park boundaries. NPCA is now working with land trusts such as the Conservation Fund to develop a campaign to seek public and private funding to secure the most critical of these inholdings from willing sellers.
One key LWCF program important for the acquisition of inholdings throughout Alaska’s national parks is the Emergency Hardship, Deficiency, and Relocation Fund. The Hardship Fund is used effectively by the Alaska Region to secure critical inholdings in Alaska’s national parks from willing sellers. The sellers are primarily Alaska Natives who secured 40, 80, or 160 allotments through the Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906. Through the Hardship Fund, remote parcels have been secured, thus removing the threat of heirs of original allotees subdividing and selling their lots for commercial use in the middle of Alaska’s premier wilderness parks. Currently, the Hardship Fund is funded at $2.4 million.
The remote nature of inholdings in Alaska’s national parks makes valuing them difficult. There are appraisers with some experience in calculating the raw land value of remote properties in Alaska, but they lack the experience to include the value of protecting natural and cultural resources on those lands. This resource value, be it cultural or natural, is not included in the appraised price. Unfortunately, the Park Service cannot offer a landowner more than the appraised value of the land, so when a landowner knows that the property is worth more because of its un-assessed national and cultural resources, they ask a higher price than the agency can pay.
The Park Service in Alaska needs to be given some flexibility to negotiate with a landowner should the appraised price not include the value of the resources. In addition, the Park Service needs flexibility to include in its negotiating calculus the cost of park resources as well as its operating budget of NOT securing the property should a non-compatible development be built on that could have become parkland.
Moreover, when determining the price being paid for a park inholding, the cost of NOT securing the property also needs to be included in the equation. Many times paying a bit more than the officially appraised price, which often doesn’t include park values, would save the Park Service much more money in the long run.
For example, the Park Service recently had to take legal action against the Hale family in McCarthy, located in Wrangell-St.Elias National Park & Preserve. The Park Service, limited by the appraised price of the property could not meet the price asked from the original owner, so he sold it to the Hales, who then illegally bulldozed a road to their inholding property. The resulting damage to park resources and the cost of the investigation and resulting litigation was far in excess of the difference between the appraised and asking price.
It is not the intent of NPCA to suggest that the National Park Service buy every inholding. Given the magnitude, that simply is impossible. But willing sellers need to be given a fair price. Oftentimes the ability to add just a few thousand dollars to the price would make the deal happen. But the existing restriction to paying ONLY the appraised price is constricting the Park Service’s ability to buy critical properties from willing sellers. NPCA would ask that Congress consider changes to the authority of the National Park Service to secure lands so that it can negotiate to pay more than the appraised price when park values are not included in the appraisal or the cost of NOT securing the property threatens park resources and would be burden on the park operating budget.
Access to inholdings is one of the biggest issues facing the National Park Service in Alaska. Section 1110(b) of ANILCA sets forth the access provisions. It is important to remember that, while recognizing the right of access “shall be given,” that right is modified by Congressional direction to the Secretary to promulgate “reasonable regulations to protect the natuhral and other values” of our national parks. And it is also important to remember that the right of access is further modified to be that which the Park Service determines is “adequate and feasible.” That does not necessarily mean that whatever an inholder requests, they will receive. It is the responsibility of the National Park Service to negotiate on behalf of all Americans an access solution that is adequate and feasible for the inholder and protects park values. Setting forth how this discussion with a potential inholder should occur is the topic of a draft report, Users Guide to Accessing Inholdings in a National Park Service Area in Alaska.
NPCA supports the process as set forth by the Park Service, while also encouraging the Park Service to work closely with park residents to find terms of a potential access permit that are not unduly burdensome. We also recognize that access to inholdings for commercial ventures, such as mining, timber harvest, or lodge development, requires a different set of permit stipulations than access to a private home.
Managing access to Alaska national park inholdings, as envisioned by Congress in 1110(b), has budget implications for the Park Service, and park operating budgets need to reflect this ongoing need.
The Cost of Wildlife Management
One of the differences ANILCA created in Alaska’s parks is the ability to sport hunt in Alaska’s 19 million acres of national preserves, and subsistence hunt in all of Alaska’s park units with the exception of Glacier Bay and Katmai national parks, the original Mt. McKinley National Park, and Kenai Fjords National Park. These hunting privileges were created in large part to preserve traditional ways of life that have evolved in Alaska. Congress emphasized this point by including subsistence in the purpose statements that established several specific national park units.
Hunting is not a threat to resources in Alaska’s national parks. But the Park Service does need to know how many animals live in their park units and how many are being annually harvested in order to ensure that the agency is maintaining healthy and naturally occurring wildlife populations in accordance with ANILCA, the Organic Act and other management guidelines. According to NPCA’s analysis, the Park Service lacks the necessary resources to monitor wildlife populations and harvest levels to make sure that current wildlife harvest is not adversely impacting the ability to perpetuate natural and healthy wildlife populations.
This lack of necessary resources is detailed in a new report released today by NPCA: Who’s Counting? How Insufficient Support For Science Is Hindering National Park Wildlife Management In Alaska. This 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. The lack of data is not an indication of a lack of interest on the part of the National Park Service, but rather it s indicative of the funding shortfalls that affect the entire National Park System.
In Alaska’s national preserves, land mammal harvest by sport hunters is managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game under the same regulations that apply to lands owned by the state of Alaska. The state regulates hunting to provide for “maximum sustained yield” while the Park Service is charged with maintaining naturally occurring “healthy populations.” This difference in management philosophy does not necessarily pose a threat to the wildlife populations living in Alaska’s national preserves. However, only through sound wildlife science and data gathering can we be absolutely certain that state wildlife harvest goals do not inadvertently affect the purposes for which Alaska’s national preserves were established.
Over-harvesting Threatens Katmai Bears
For one of the best examples of why the Park Service’s needs sufficient wildlife science and research, we need only to look at the over-harvesting of brown bears now happening at Katmai National Preserve.
Sufficient harvest data is available at Katmai. In our opinion, this data indicates that the level of sport hunting for brown bears allowed by the state of Alaska is impacting the park’s ability to meet its specific congressional mandate in Section 202 of ANILCA, which establishes the purpose of Katmai National Park & Preserve to include protecting “habitats for, and populations of high concentrations of brown/grizzly bears and their denning areas…”
Although hunting is allowed in Katmai National Preserve, NPCA feels the adverse impact of high harvest levels of brown bears is in direct contrast to the reason why the park was created. Two years ago, 42 bears were killed in the preserve; biologist’s say 14 to 18 is a sustainable number of animals that can be killed biennially. Last fall, an additional 27 were killed. NPCA is deeply concerned that the current level of hunting, which is set by the state of Alaska, is reducing high concentrations of grizzly bears in Katmai Preserve.
These are the same bears incidentally, that are observed by thousands of visitors to Alaska each year. These visitors generate significant sums of money for the local economies of Homer and Kodiak when they hire local guides to take them to Katmai National Preserve and adjacent state viewing areas at McNeil River to view the bears. Of course, the bears’ acclimation to humans makes them more vulnerable to hunters.
This over-hunting of bears at Katmai is just one indicator of the potential impact on park wildlife by actions taken by the state of Alaska to fulfill its mandate from the state legislature to intensively manage wildlife for species like moose and caribou, which can be hunted. The state’s intensive management program also includes predator control – killing high numbers of wolves and bears to increase the survival of moose and caribou calves. The National Park Service was successful in rejecting aerial wolf control in units of the National Park System. However, the state is continuing to increase the harvest opportunities of wolves, bears, foxes, coyotes, and wolverines on national preserve lands as a form of covert predator control.
The state is doing this in a number of ways, including extending seasons, raising bag limits, increasing motorized access and same-day hunting, allowing the sale of animal parts such as bear skins, and hunting over bait. It is also done by pushing official predator control areas up against the boundaries of national park units so that when park wildlife travel out of a park unit, they are immediately subject to aerial hunting (map in Appendix 3) This very scenario occurred at Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve last year when several collared wolves strayed out of the preserve and were killed, thus ending almost a decade of continual wolf research data.
We know the Park Service is concerned about these threats to its wildlife, but without basic populations and harvest level data, the agency’s ability to recognize where a problem exists, such as Katmai Preserve, and successfully argue for a solution is greatly diminished. Without this data, the Park Service lacks the tools to adequately protect our national parklands for future generations.
Currently, there are two sources of harvest data available to help park managers understand park wildlife harvests in Alaska’s national parks: the Reporting Database and Community Harvest Surveys.
The Reporting Database, developed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, contains harvest data submitted by hunters. Information about the hunter, such as where the hunter resides, is attached to data about the specific animal harvested, including date and location of the kill. But the reporting database is not a dependable tool for wildlife managers because the information is not complete. Although harvest rates over time are provided, not all species of interest are included. Moreover, rural hunters generally don’t report the majority of their harvests for a variety of cultural reasons. The database is fairly accurate for urban and non-local users and provides a relatively accurate picture of sport hunting trends.
Community Harvest Survey
The Community Harvest Survey program, also developed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, provides community harvest estimates for rural residents based on interviews. Survey teams go door-to-door in remote communities asking residents about their harvest activities during the preceding year. After sampling a statistically significant portion of a community, a total community harvest is estimated for individual species.
Recommendations For Improving Wildlife Research and Monitoring
NPCA’s new report examines this challenge facing the Park Service and identifies where data are lacking and the reasons behind it. NPCA also makes several recommendations to improve the availability of sound science and harvest data. Each of these recommendations will take additional resources. The quickest way to address these problems is to provide additional funding through park operating budgets. This is basic scientific data that must be collected as part of each park’s basic annual operations. Funding this science from special Park Service programs, such as the Natural Resource Challenge, does not guarantee sufficient support over the long term, because as discussed earlier, this program has not received consistent annual funding. Like funds needed to clean restrooms, safe roads, and quality interpretive programs, Alaska’s park managers must have the necessary funding to collect scientific data upon which to make sound wildlife management decisions.
1. The National Park Service should increase support for conducting and analyzing population science for hunted species.
Research is expensive, but not nearly as expensive as failing to maintain healthy wildlife populations in the national parks of Alaska. For ecologically important and/or heavily harvested species, park specific plans should be completed that identify what studies are currently provided for in park base operations budgets, the Natural Resource Challenge, other Park Service funding sources, or are provided for by partner agencies such as the University of Alaska or the state. A gap analysis needs to occur between those wildlife populations that are regularly studied and those that are not, but need to be. The Park Service should also develop a plan for the unmet gaps in basic wildlife population research needs. This information would provide a road map to ensure that proper data exist for wildlife management decisions.
2. The National Park Service should support regularly scheduled Community Harvest Surveys.
The available data in the reporting database available from the state of Alaska falls short of explaining rural harvest activities. The Park Service needs to make a commitment to providing additional funds and/or other measures to efficiently conduct Community Harvest Surveys in a timely and in a culturally sensitive manner. Any system that is used must be respectful of rural residents and their long-term tradition with the land. While the reporting database, in many instances, fails to account for most rural harvests, it is collected every year. Testing the accuracy and validity of the reporting database requires that data must also be gathered using Community Harvest Survey, a proven and effective measure of rural hunting success. Providing funds and encouraging collaboration with other agencies could help the Park Service collect more of this valuable data and focus it on the resident zone communities most closely associated with parks. Comprehensive Community Harvest Surveys should be conducted every seven to 10 years as a baseline for wildlife being consumed in each of the 84 resident zone communities in parks and monuments and communities in close to preserves. Immediate targets should be those communities that have never had a survey or where survey data is at least 15 years old. More frequent surveys could occur on species of concern—those primarily hunted—in the interim.
3. The National Park Service should support a new position for a statewide wildlife data manager.
Collecting data is only part of the process. The Park Service also needs the expertise to incorporate the information into a statewide database and analyze it. A statewide wildlife data coordinator could provide valuable expertise for all parks in Alaska and provide a centralized place for harvest data analysis and data interpretation for each park unit. This will save the time of individual park biologists and allow them to focus on conducting their own park-specific projects. This data manager, in addition to analyzing harvest on a statewide basis, could also analyze Fish and Game reporting data for each unit and answer park specific questions. A single person to review and understand the statewide harvest data would provide significant assistance to parks in conducting research tasks by managing a clearinghouse of historical data and providing holistic analysis of park harvest science in Alaska over time.
Economic Benefits of Alaska’s National Parks
In summary, Alaska’s national parks need continued investment. Not only do the parks protect Alaska’s priceless natural resources, but also provide significant economic development.
Tourism is the second largest contributing industry to the Alaskan economy, and national parks play a critical role in this tourism economy. Alaska’s 15 national parks comprising over 50 million acres of land provide tremendous recreational opportunities for visitors to the parks, and revenue to the local Alaskan economy.
According to a 2003 Michigan State University study, the 2.2 million visitors to Alaska’s national parks generated $104 million for the local and state economies, which supported 2,370 Alaskan jobs. Additionally, in 2004 the Park Service spent $83 million in agency expenditures, employing 650 Alaskans annually, approaching 1,000 in the peak summer season. Finally, Park Service construction expenditures have accounted for on average, $5.8 million annually, further contributing to the local economy. The cumulative annual economic impact of Alaska’s national parks totaled nearly $200 million.
Seward & Kenai Fjords National Park – A Case Study
To see the direct economic benefits a national park can have on a local economy, one need look no further than Kenai Fjords and the city of Seward. Initial support for the park by the local community was limited. In 1975, the Seward City Council passed a resolution condemning the formation of Kenai Fjords National Park. However by 1985, five years after the creation of the park, the City Council recognized the positive impacts of park visitors and rescinded its resolution and embraced the park. Between 1985 and 1993, Kanai Fjords saw a 278 percent jump in visitation, twice the statewide increase. Increased visitation to the park resulted in increased revenue to the city of Seward. In 2000, the Kenai Fjord tours attracted 145,000 people to Seward, generating $13 million. The largest tour operator alone employs 100 people on an average annual basis and nearly 200 in the summer season.
A 2001 report by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage concludes that since Kenai Fjords was created: “… the Seward economy has expanded and strengthened… there is now widespread agreement among the residents of Seward that the creation of the Kenai Fjords National Park has been good for the visitor industry, the economy, and the community. The standard of living is higher, there are more job opportunities, local public revenues have grown, and the economy is more diversified.”
Mr. Chairman, thank you for bringing the subcommittee to Alaska and focusing attention on the national treasures of our state. Alaska has the biggest, most remote and wildest national parks in the country. When it passed ANILCA, Congress intended to preserve these vast, intact wilderness ecosystems, while also perpetuating the ability of Alaska’s rural residents, including many who rely on wildlife and other park resources for subsistence, to continue their traditional way of life.
But like many national parklands across the country, Alaska’s 15 parks are facing financial strain. Funding shortfalls are affecting the experiences of visitors, the preservation of wildlife and other natural resources, and the Alaskan way of life. As the nation counts down to the Centennial of the National Park Service in 2016, we must work together to ensure the future of these majestic places and preserve our national heritage for generations to come.
Alaska NPS Budgets
($ in thousands)
% Change FY06-FY07
% Change FY03-FY07 Denali NP & Preserve
-2.4 Gates of the Arctic NP & Preserve
29.5 Glacier Bay NP & Preserve
11.3 Katmai NP & Pres, Aniakchak NM & Pres, and Alagnak WR
24.2 Kenai Fjords NP
30.8 Klondike Gold Rush NHP
9.6 Lake Clark NP & Preserve
14.4 Sitka NHP
7.9 Western Arctic National Parklands - Bering Land Bridge NPres, Cape Krusenstern NM, Kobuk Valley NP, and Noatak NPres
1.5 Wrangell-Saint Elias NP & Preserve
5.9 Yukon-Charley Rivers Natl Preserve
Effect of Across the Board Cuts FY05
($ in thousands)
FY 2004 Final $
FY 2005 Increase $
Other Reductions $
Across-the-Board Reductions $
Final Increase $
FY 2005 Enacted $ Denali NP & NPres
10,842 Gates of the Arctic NP & NPres
2,181 Glacier Bay NP & NPres
3,751 Katmai NP & NPres and Aniakchak NM & NPres
2,891 Kenai Fjords NP
2,765 Klondike Gold Rush NHP
2,247 Lake Clark NP & NPres.
1,813 Sitka NHP
1,565 Western Arctic National Parklands- Bering Land Bridge NPres , Cape Krusenstern NM, Kobuk Valley NP, and Noatak Npres
3,105 Wrangell-Saint Elias NP & Npres
3,846 Yukon-Charley Rivers Npres
Effect of Across the Board Cuts FY06
($ in thousands)
FY 2005 Final $
FY06 Pay Cost Increase $
FY 2006 Increase $
Other Reductions $
Across-the-Board Reductions $
Final Increase $
FY 2006 Enacted $ Denali NP & NPres
11,033 Gates of the Arctic NP & NPres
2,513 Glacier Bay NP & NPres
3,826 Katmai NP & NPres and Aniakchak NM & NPres
3,010 Kenai Fjords NP
3,192 Klondike Gold Rush NHP
2,433 Lake Clark NP & NPres.
2,077 Sitka NHP
1,672 Western Arctic National Parklands- Bering Land Bridge NPres , Cape Krusenstern NM, Kobuk Valley NP, and Noatak Npres
3,151 Wrangell-Saint Elias NP & Npres
4,050 Yukon-Charley Rivers Npres