Refuges’ management plans being updated

State committed to open process

By: Randy Bates

If you want to get someone’s attention, make a sensational statement. If you want even more attention, make that sensational statement an accusation.

Recent authors borrowed Joni Mitchell’s lyrics, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” to disparage the Alaska Fish and Game Department’s review and revisions of management plans for legislatively established state game refuges,  such as Izembek, McNeil River and Yakataga.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Alaska’s legislatively established special areas are unique and extremely valuable. The department is committed to managing them and gains nothing by altering their designated purposes.

Since statehood, the Alaska Legislature has designated 32 of these special areas across Alaska, encompassing more than 3.2 million acres. The department manages these areas and permits activities within them according to statutory purposes, generally related to conserving fish, wildlife, habitats and ensuring public access. 

Currently, 17 of these areas have management plans and associated regulations. All of these plans are useful and meaningful, but some are outdated, overly burdensome to implement and/or include language subject to interpretation.

As an example, the 1988 Susitna Flats State Game Refuge regulations are especially specific and prescriptive. They prohibit a person from entering the area with garbage (you brought a snack bar that has a wrapper), prohibit disturbing or removing natural objects (your child picks a flower or tosses a rock) and require pets be on leashes shorter than nine feet.

If you plan to gather more than 20 people, you may obtain a permit. But if a couple of friendly groups run into each other or a few extra people join your family reunion, you may run afoul of regulations. These rules are overly prescriptive and may be very difficult to enforce.

To address this, the department initiated a review of the existing management plans and associated regulations to ensure they are effective, clear, understandable, implementable and enforceable. Through review and revisions, the department intends to enact an adaptable permitting process for the special areas.

This approach is used successfully on state Fish Habitat Permit reviews and on Special Area Permit reviews for the other 15 special areas lacking approved management plans. An adaptive approach allows our biologists judicious decision making in their management and review of activities, based on varying and changing circumstances.

To prioritize the revision of existing plans and regulations, the department identified three phases of work. The first two focus on existing management plans and their associated regulations; the third phase addresses all remaining special area regulations. We expect the first phase to be completed by this December, the second by December 2015, and the third by December 2016.

The department is committed to an open and transparent public process. Proposed revisions will include opportunities for public comment and will build upon previous plan development efforts. We will solicit input and provide an opportunity for informal comments, as well, and will solicit formal comments under the Administrative Procedures Act. 

The Department of Fish and Game values the uniqueness of these special areas, and I am proud of our continued commitment to manage them according to their legislatively designated purposes. Our reviews and revisions of the management plans will strengthen management of these areas for their intended purposes. Incorporating an adaptive permitting process enhances the department’s ability to evaluate these resources and their uses and mitigate any impacts they might receive.

Randy Bates has been the director of the Habitat Division within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game since July 2011. Prior to his appointment as director, he worked for the Coastal and Ocean Management Program at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for 13 years.

State’s actions eroding democracy

By: Bob Shavelson


 Supreme Court Justice once famously wrote he could not define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it.

The same can be said about the steady erosion of democracy in Alaska.

Randy Bates, the director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Habitat Division, tried to defend the Parnell administration’s efforts to roll back basic safeguards in Alaska’s most important fish and game areas — our critical habitats, our game refuges and our wildlife sanctuaries.

These are some of Alaska’s most prized hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing areas, and under our constitution, they belong to all Alaskans. Our elected officials wisely set them aside so all Alaskans — now and in the future — could use and enjoy them.

While the Parnell administration is working to weaken fish and game protections, something more important is unfolding: Our government is actively working to subvert our democracy and to strip Alaskans of our basic rights to govern ourselves.

The erosion of democracy usually doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it’s a series of actions, sometimes a trickle, sometimes more, that over time leaves Alaskans with less and less power to govern ourselves.    

The Parnell administration’s attack on fish and game habitat is a perfect example.

At its most basic level, democracy requires three things.

First, democracy requires transparency. We need to know what our government is doing, and when and how they are doing it. But unelected officials at ADFG are now working behind closed doors to fashion legal changes that will cut Alaskans out of meaningful roles governing our fish and game habitat. We’ve asked ADFG to come to our communities to explain the changes to Alaskans, but they refuse to answer phone messages and emails. That’s because ADFG knows it can simply issue some draft rules, take public comments, then issue whatever final rule it wants. That’s not transparency, and it erodes our democracy. 

Next, democracy requires accountability. We need to be able to hold our unelected officials responsible when they violate the public trust. Yet Mr. Bates was a leading foot soldier in the demise of Alaska’s coastal management program, which was the only law giving local Alaskans a real voice in coastal decision making. Now, Alaska is the only coastal state without a coastal program, despite the fact we have more coastline then all the Lower 48 states combined. Instead of being held accountable, however, Mr. Bates has been rewarded with his current ADFG position for cutting Alaskans out of decisions about our fish and game resources. That’s not accountability, and it hurts our democracy. 

Finally, democracy requires participation, and participation means the right to engage in the process, and the right to have a meaningful voice in the outcome. This is where ADFG’s special areas rollbacks really break down. Historically, local Alaskans played significant roles shaping the management plans for local refuges, sanctuaries and critical habitats. But according to leaked internal memos, the Parnell administration now plans to remove local Alaskans from their traditional roles shaping how we manage our special areas. Instead, a small group of unelected officials will decide what’s best for us. That hurts our democracy.

The Parnell administration’s ultimate goal is to allow virtually any industrial activity to occur within our special habitat areas. They know Alaskans don’t receive public notice on habitat permits, so we have no way to know about harmful plans that will destroy our fish and game resources. They also know ADFG routinely rubber-stamps thousands of habitat permits every year in less than a week’s time, with little regard to effects on our hunting or fishing grounds.  That hurts our democracy. 

If you like to hunt ducks on the Susitna Flats or in the Palmer Hay Flats, or fish halibut in Kachemak Bay, or if you like to watch bears taking salmon at McNeil River, or to hear the sandhill cranes call in Creamers Field, we need a strong and active democracy.

That’s because our democracy defines who we are — as Alaskans and as Americans. It’s far from perfect, but it’s the best system ever devised in the history of humankind to keep our government in check and to protect our publicly owned fish and game resources. If you agree, let Governor Parnell know how you feel.  

Bob Shavelson is executive director of Cook Inletkeeper, a nonprofit group that works with Alaskans to promote democracy and protect publicly owned water, fish and game resources.