This time, the Park Service wants to protect Old Denali from snowmachines PERMANENTLY
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This time, the Park Service wants to protect Old Denali from snowmachines PERMANENTLY

This winter, the fight over snowmachines in Denali National Park and Preserve has done anything but cool off.

In December, an Alaska federal judge tossed out the Park Service’s 1999 temporary rule concerning snowmachines in the old portion of Denali National Park. (see related story in our Spring 1999 issue). The 1999 temporary rule closed the majority of the Old Park to snowmachines for traditional activities, but it opened two corridors near Cantwell that had never previously been open to snowmachining. A state-wide snowmachine group sued the Park Service for its closure action, and conservationists intervened on behalf of the closure and then sued the Park Service for opening the corridors near Cantwell.

The federal judge invalidated the 1999 temporary rule because it failed to define the statutory term “traditional activities,” a key term found in Section 1110(a) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). In January, we appealed the Alaska federal court ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Park Service has now proposed a regulation that will define “traditional activities” and address the Alaska court’s concerns. The proposed regulation would define a traditional activity to be:

an activity that generally and lawfully occurred in a unit or a geographically defined area of a unit prior to enactment of ANILCA, and that was typically associated with that region as an integral and established part of a utilitarian Alaska lifestyle or cultural pattern.

We support this proposed definition. It is consistent with ANILCA and its legislative history. Nowhere did Congress evidence an intent to allow, through Section 1110(a), new motorized uses for any purpose. Rather, Congress wanted to preserve the continuation of specific, existing motorized access and uses in certain new conservation system units being created by ANILCA.

In the same regulatory package, the Park Service proposes to apply this definition of “traditional activities” to close all of Old Denali to the use of snowmachines. The Park Service has found that it is unable to identify any specific traditional winter activities that occurred in Old Denali. The type of traditional activities identified during the Congressional consideration of Section 1110(a) are subsistence and sport hunting, fishing, and berry picking. The Park Service has found that these traditional activities simply did not occur in Old Denali, and that there could not now be traditional activities in Old Denali for which snowmachine access is authorized under Section 1110(a). Therefore, the Park Service is proposing a permanent ban on snowmachines in Old Denali for any activity, traditional or otherwise.

We have supported both the Park Service’s proposed definition of “traditional activities” and its regulatory closing of Old Denali to snowmachines. We have urged the Park Service to protect Old Denali from the irreparable damage that will result if snowmachines are allowed in Old Denali contrary to the purpose and content of ANILCA and its legislative history. These regulatory actions are consistent with the extensive legislative history of ANILCA, as well as with the statutory scheme of ANILCA itself. Pervasive throughout ANILCA is the notion that historic patterns and means of access and traditional Alaskan cultural activities should not be disrupted by the new ANILCA conservation units. Nowhere does the text of ANILCA or its legislative history provide for the introduction of new motorized uses, including snowmachine recreation, where they were not previously occurring.

The public comment period on the proposed regulations closed on January 25, and the Park Service is expected to issue a final rule sometime this spring.