NPS access handbook an outrage






March/April 2005





By the Wrangell-St. Elias News Editorial Staff




The Wrangell-St. Elias News


McCarthy #42, Box MXY


Glennallen, Alaska 99588 


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“The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) enshrines Alaska’s preservation of the cultural elements of remote living. The Park Service did not welcome private property in parks when Wrangell-St. Elias was formed. Congress created ANILCA to protect against the old Park Service management objective of eliminating all private land. Alaska, with its huge distances and lack of paved roads, has a flourishing remote culture, dependent on motorized vehicle trails like any other community on Earth. Locals aren't asking for new land or roads, just continued use of private land, roads and trails pre-dating the park, thus safeguarding a uniquely Alaska lifestyle. For 100 years residents have “broken trail,” and “subsistence” has required driving funky vehicles somewhere unpopulated. Today these same trails and access seem lined with unbreakable red-tape.”


That Op-Ed, published May 8, 2004, in the Anchorage Daily News and written by Neil Darish was entitled, Let Park Residents Thrive. It closed with this remark: What is needed is a clear statement from our Park Service Alaska regional director that her philosophy allows the residents in this park to thrive.


The recently released draft version of the Alaska National Park Access Guide would have been a good vehicle by which the good Director could have made that statement.


Instead, the Guide only adds several more layers of red tape to the inholder access system.


According to the National Park Service (NPS) press release, the draft guide “describes how landowners and valid occupants can obtain access rights under... ANILCA.”


That may sound like good news -- until you realize that landowners and valid occupants thought they already had access rights under ANILCA.


“Nothing in this title shall be construed to adversely affect any valid existing right of access,” reads ANILCA.


If you have rights, and have not somehow lost them, why do you have to obtain them?


Residents had been optimistic that the new Access Guide would reduce red tape, rather than increase it.


Regional Director Blaszak had made several trips to the park to meet with residents, and both she and Assistant Director Vic Knox said they had some ideas to make life easier for inholders with access issues.


Unfortunately, the new procedures will do a number of things, but making life easier for inholders is not one of them.


Under the new proposal, inholders will be required to start a protracted bureaucratic process to obtain rights they had been promised were already secure.


These are the same methods that the NPS honed and perfected while ridding the parks of the small mining families.


ANILCA also says that the access will be what is “adequate and feasible.”


Under the new proposal, the determination of what is adequate and feasible will be made by the park service, not the landowner.


“For example,” says the Guide, “if an inholding is on the shore of a large lake, and access is available by float or ski-equipped plane, then even though the request is for construction of a new road, it could be determined that air access is adequate and feasible, and road access is not needed.”


Determined by the park service, not the landowner!


What about those valid existing rights of access that ANILCA promises?


The General Management Plan for Wrangell-St. Elias (WRST) says this: “The park/preserve was established subject to valid existing rights, including rights-of-way established under RS 2477.


The validity of these rights-of-way will be determined on a case-by-case basis.”


That was 1986 and this is 2005.


To date, not one single route established under RS2477 has been “validated” by the NPS.


Instead, after mentioning that over 100 rights-of-way have been declared by the State of Alaska as meeting all of the criteria necessary under federal statutes, the Guide contemptuously snorts, “Most of these routes have little if any contemporary use.”


While landowners and residents may think that going home after work or grocery shopping is a “contemporary use,” apparently the park service does not.


“Until such time as a potential RS 2477 may be administratively recognized as valid by the Secretary, or is affirmed by a federal court decision, the NPS will manage the subject lands as unencumbered federal parklands,” says the Guide.


In other words, we don't like these rights-of-way in our parks, so we choose not to recognize them as being valid.

If you don't like it, “sue us.”


One has to wonder how a federal agency gets away with deciding what federal and state laws it will recognize. They do because there is little oversight by Congress. 

Some inholders use rights-of-way that were granted along section lines.

These are also dismissed as being state rights-of-way that the NPS has chosen to not recognize as valid.

If the new procedures are followed, inholders will be forced to apply for permits which may well restrict the number of trips that can be made, the number and types of vehicles that can be used, what time of day or night the trips may be made, whether and under what restrictions may friends visit you and may even require you to be escorted by a park ranger.

For this “right,” the inholder will be charged an application fee and a monitoring fee as the minimum.

Other fees are optional.

Oh, and if your route crosses any “wetlands,” you will be required to forfeit an equal amount of your property to the park.

What do Alaskans think of the draft handbook?

“This is clearly not what Congress intended,” says Susan Smith, Chairperson of Residents of the Wrangells. “What right does NPS have to limit the number of trips I can make in and out of my home? A permit can be revoked if one makes too many trips, a visitor does something wrong, or maintenance is done in a way that NPS finds distasteful. And we pay them to “monitor” us after the permits are awarded? This is again outrageous.”

“This is an absolutely dastardly and outrageous document,” said Ray Kreig, Vice Chairman of the Alaska Land Rights Coalition. “It fits right in with everything the NPS has done in the past to substitute its craving for extreme and fanatical regulation over what the statute says it should be: ‘reasonable’”

Kreig goes on to quote Father J. Michael Hornick, J.C.L. who wrote, “Unfortunately, the experience of ANILCA has demonstrated that ‘reasonable regulation’ often means bureaucratic hoops which never end. It’s how to say ‘yes’ when you really mean ‘no.’ ANILCA promised to preserve access rights for inholders. While Federal agencies sanctimoniously acknowledge individual and State’s rights of access in their management plans, in reality they obstruct any practical use of such access rights.”

Landowners living in this area before it became a park feared the NPS would do what managers in Outside parks did -- make life untenable through extreme regulations. They were comforted by language in ANILCA that seemed to protect them. Habit is hard to break, and Park Managers have been gradually eroding the protections of ANILCA. What is needed is not a change in regulations, but rather a change of heart.

Frederick Douglas, the nation’s leading 19th century African American spokesman who, ironically, merited a National Historic Site in his name run by the Park Service, once wrote: “Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”


Copyright 2005, Wrangell-St. Elias News.