The Haines Heliski map committee reviewed more map change proposals on Monday. And for the first time in this process, they had specific notes from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to consider alongside them.
The catch here is that the Chilkat Valley mountain goat study being conducted by the state isn’t going to be complete until the Spring. A bear denning study is also in progress. But Fish and Game has been asked to provide input in the heliski map amendment process now.
Biologists provided comments about mountain goats and denning brown bears based on observations during aerial surveys and GPS collar data, but they stressed that it is not definitive. The Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee has recommended the map committee hold off on making decisions until more data is available.
The Fish and Game information is important for a few reasons. There is concern over heliskiing activity displacing goats from critical winter habitat. That was an issue for the first area the map committee looked at during their latest meeting. It was proposed by committee member Scott Sundberg’s company Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures. The proposed area faces Chilkat Inlet near Mount Emmerich. Sundberg said this is a spot that should have been included in the 2013 map, but was omitted in a mapping error. Wildlife biologist Carl Koch said heliskiing in this spot would likely disturb wintering goats.
It’s also close to the site of a brown bear mauling last April, an incident that raises safety concerns around skiing close to bear dens. Fish and Game is also worried about the bears’ safety.
“It hinders cub survival and certainly effects the physiology of a female if she has to go and try to find another place to den up,” said biologist Stephanie Sell.
But the heliski industry players on the committee resisted Fish and Game’s wildlife concerns.
“If we were to go in and gut this based on some probability maps that are being put together right now, you could in one fell swing probably destroy an industry,” said Sundberg.
Fish and Game is using data from 67 collared goats as well as slope and elevation from known bear den locations.
Sundberg argued that they are cognizant of the animals they operate around. He said he’s never had a bear and a client on the same slope.
“Seventeen years this has gone on,” said Sundberg. “The populations are stable and we do a good job of watching out for the wildlife. And we trend with the weather, the warmups, away from where the habitat is going to open up for them and where they’re going to come out and flourish for the Spring, Summer season.”
Sundberg also reiterated a claim he’s made in previous meetings, that mountain goats become habituated to helicopter activity, but Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Sell disagreed.
The committee voted 3-1 in favor of recommending the Mt. Emmerich-area map change to the borough manager, with chair Ron Jackson opposed.
Another proposal from SEABA referred to as S6 was tabled after the group again could not come to a consensus. Fish and Game noted collared goats in the area, and said heliskiing would likely disturb the animals. They also said there’s potential to disturb brown bears. Sundberg removed part of the proposal, but not the other, larger area known as Old Faithful.
“This was the first mountain we heliskied in 2000,” said Sundberg. “I established a snowcat, a permitted land use snowcat skiing area here in 2006 and I’ve operated there since.”
Sundberg built a snowcat road there, and since then backcountry use has increased. Committee member Meredith Pochardt reminded the group that there are public concerns over this location, because of that backcountry use.
Sundberg said he wants to lower the existing run he’s already permitted to use. He suggested decreasing the size of the proposal, to end at tree line and the group decided to table it until the map is altered to reflect that.
The committee also considered a SEABA proposal on Mount Jonathan Ward that Sundberg said was also left off of the map because of an oversight. Despite some concerns over mountain goats, the committee voted unanimously to recommend the proposal.
Of the three Alaska Heliskiing proposals reviewed at the meeting, one was sent on for further review. AH7 is the company’s largest proposal and though Brownell said there are no goats in the area, the Fish and Game data suggests otherwise. The committee voted 3-2 with Pochardt and Jackson opposed.
They tabled AH6, an Alaska Heliskiing proposal that abuts Chilkat Indian Village provisional land on Mount Jonathan Ward. Fish and Game noted concerns for both goats and bears in this area.
Two proposals were withdrawn from the review, Alaska Heliskiing’s AH5, and SEABA’s S7.
The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 28.