Concerned about rapidly increasing air traffic, two Haines-based conservation organizations have appealed a state decision that allows a company to expand tours at Glacier Point.
Lynn Canal Conservation and Friends of Glacier Point filed their appeals on July 31. This is the second consecutive year that Friends has appealed Chilkat Guides' tours at Glacier Point, about 10 miles south of Haines.
The greatest concern for LCC and Friends is the rapidly increasing air traffic required to transport tourists to Glacier Point for day use.
"It's grown exponentially," said LCC spokesperson Nancy Berland. "Traditional users, hikers and those in kayaks, are driven away by the (air traffic) noise and numbers of people," brought in by Chilkat Guides.
Berland said Chilkat Guides brought in 8,000 tourists in 1999 and estimates the number will grow by 50 percent this year.
LCC and Friends are trying to prevent Chilkat Guides from obtaining a three-year permit that would allow him storage of its motorized canoes on the state land overnight. But the center of the issue is the impact of day use at Glacier Point.
"We've always said the stored canoes don't hurt anybody," Berland said. "The problem with the permit process is that all the state is willing to look at is the storage of canoes. They don't look at the impact that's happening during the days. It's dodging its responsibility to manage this resource."
Chilkat Guides owner Bart Henderson said appealing his permit doesn't make any sense.
"We have very big canoes, 31 feet, 750 pounds," Henderson said. "If we had to haul them back and forth with no roads, then we would be putting significantly more impact on the resources. This is the only permit that's issued: it's their only place to attack us."
Even if the appeal is successful, Henderson said, it will do little good.
"We don't need that permit to operate," Henderson said. "What LCC is really trying to accomplish is land-use designation change. They're trying to place a limitation on commercial tours."
According to Terry Rader, retained lands officer for the state Division of Mining, Land and Water, that can only happen during the state's planning process for the Haines State Forest Management Plan, which has begun.
"That will address this (land use) issue. We've actually begun the first stages, but the planning process will go on for a couple of years," Rader said. "These plans were originally done in 1985 or '86. We'd like them to be done on more of a regular basis, but we don't have the funds to do that."
That is an issue that LCC and Friends have a hard time living with.
"The storage of canoes is not what this project is about," said George Figdor, Friends spokesperson. "We're challenging the entire basis for which (the Department of Natural Resources) reviews projects for commercial recreation.
"The remedy we're asking for isn't the denial of the permit. We're requesting that the commissioner issue an order that would prohibit any further commercial activities until the entire project is reviewed," Figdor said.
LCC and Friends feel they have a much better case for changing the day-use policy during the current planning process because they say they have accumulated an abundance of documentation that shows how tourism is harming the area resources. If they have to achieve this goal by first attacking Henderson's canoe-storage permit, so be it.
"That is the basis of our complaint. We don't believe this policy (of unrestricted day use) is legal," Henderson said.
Henderson and Berland disagree on whether LCC and Friends chose the right process of appeal.
"They're just using this avenue to publicize their opinion. It's a community decision; they (LCC and Friends) shouldn't be attempting to settle these large issues," Henderson said.
"What people forget is it costs the state thousands of dollars to deal with these appeals. There's an appropriate forum, a review of management plan coming up. That's when it should be addressed," he said.
But Berland said the exact same avenue of appeal worked just fine for Henderson when he had DNR's original decision reversed three years ago.
Rader said he is not sure how long the appeal review will take.