A Native Alaskan leader, along with two conservation organizations, has challenged a decision by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to continue to allow high-powered jet boats to enter sensitive areas in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in southeast Alaska. The boats’ wakes erode riverbanks and otherwise degrade salmon spawning grounds in the riverbed. The salmon in the river are the main food source for the eagles and a mainstay of the commercial and sport fishing industry and subsistence users in the area.
The Chilkat Preserve was created in 1982 to protect the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world. It is a major tourist destination.
Lynn Canal Conservation, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Coalition, and Tlingit elder Joe Hotch are appealing to Superior Court the decision of DNR commissioner Michael Menges allowing continued expanded jet-boat tours in the Preserve.
Menges’s decision also effectively denied a petition to re-instate habitat protections requested in an August 2005 filing by former Governor Jay Hammond; former DNR commissioners Frank Rue, Don Collinsworth, Jim Brooks, Carl Rosier, and Pat Pourchot; Senator Kim Elton; United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters; Alaska Trollers Association; and the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.
Nancy Berland of Lynn Canal Conservation pointed out that there are ample opportunities for visitors to see the eagles without using jet boats. “Everything hinges on healthy, productive salmon runs — from tourists’ opportunity to view eagles and wildlife to a regional economy largely based on harvesting salmon. DNR’s decision not protect high-value wild salmon habitat places the future of Chilkat River salmon at risk. Without healthy salmon runs the world-class values of the preserve would be degraded.”
Deirdre McDonnell of Earthjustice, who represents the groups in Alaska Superior Court, added, “The Chilkat Preserve is a precious international treasure. Large scale commercial tourism needs to be carefully controlled so it doesn’t destroy the salmon habitat that is the very basis of the whole area. If the salmon go, the eagles will eventually go too. That would be a catastrophe.”