Fishing guides caught in consequences of shutdown

Cooper Landing resident Alec Lamberson had intended to take a furloughed government worker fishing Monday.

Plans changed when he and other guides received a call and email on Oct. 3 from a Kenai National Wildlife Refuge official stating that their special use permits, which allow them to provide commercial visitors services on the refuge, were suspended.

“(We) could go fishing and probably be OK,” Lamberson said. “But if they wanted to do something, they could pursue it.”

The suspension came on the heels of the Sept. 31 shutdown of the federal government.

According to the email that Lamberson and other guides received Oct. 3 from Andy Loranger, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge manager, special use permits have been suspended due to a lapse in appropriations resulting from the government shutdown. The suspension will remain in effect until the government resumes its normal activities, at which time permit holders may resume operations on the refuge without further notice.

Loranger said the email message was sent to approximately 120 commercial visitor services that represent the gambit of businesses that use the refuge, from river guides to horse packing services to air taxi operators.

He said the message is the same for business owners and the public; all activities have been suspended.

“The refuge is officially closed,” Loranger said.

He said a few signs have been placed at the refuge as well as gated facilities. All refuge employees, with the exception of Loranger and five law enforcement officers, are currently not working.

Lamberson, owner of Kenai Experience, said he has been fishing the upper Kenai River as a guide for 13 years. His main season is June 11 through mid-October. While the month of October is a slower time than peak fishing season, he said he has lost revenue totaling $1,500 since the suspension.

“(Customers) are not booking, or canceling their trips,” he said.

He said there are only about 10 commercial guides who use their special use permits for the Russian River to Skilak Lake area this late into the season.

Lamberson said he has spoken to Loranger and is frustrated because there is no signage indicating the boat launch closure. Loranger said boat launch closures could create public safety issues.

“I think they are saying one thing and doing another,” Lamberson said. “We kind of feel like we were selected as one user group.”

Andy Szczesny, of Soldotna, has been fishing for 30 years. He is a member of the Kenai River Special Management Area Board and said while the permit holders received word to stop services, there is no enforcement.

“They say it is closed, but it is not enforced,” he said.

He said he noticed a local shuttle service is still on the river, public use has not been curbed, it seems that just the permittees are shut down.

Szczesny, owner of Alaska Fish and Float, said he has lost close to $6,000 since the shutdown.

Jack Blackwell, area park superintendent with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said a State Parks Citizen Advisory Board meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Donald E. Gilman River Center to discuss issues with the Kenai River Special Management Area. He said the suspension of special use permits was not on the agenda, but he believes the topic will come up during the meeting. 

Blackwell said there has not been any disruption to state parks and permits for sport fishing guides remain in effect.

“It has been business as usual,” he said Monday. 

A sign on a gate at the refuge visitor center directs those seeking more information to visit the Department of Interior website.

According to the Bureau Of Land Management Contingency Plan dated Sept. 27, the BLM is the nations largest land management agency and has responsibility for managing 245 million surface acres, primarily in 11 Western States, including Alaska.

The fact sheet states that in the event that Congress is unable to enact appropriations for FY 2014, most activities of BLM will be halted. The services and programs that will cease include businesses operated by outfitters with BLM. Issued permits will not be able to operate on BLM lands and managed lands that are closed, as well as recreation areas, including campgrounds, visitors and concessions. 

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