The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is proposing changes to what they say are confusing firearms restrictions in Chilkat State Park. The suggested change would open all of the park to legal discharge of weapons – except within half a mile of a road or developed facility.
The current DNR regulations allow for discharge of a weapon for lawful hunting or trapping in the “northern portion” of Chilkat State Park, “from Battery Point Trail south and west to Letnikof Cove.”
“To use those two things as a demarcation line wasn’t very clear,” said DNR’s Southeast Area Parks Superintendent, Mike Eberhardt. “I mean, yeah, that’s not normally what we would do and I don’t know why this language was in there.”
He says the current restrictions don’t make much sense. Usually, DNR demands more clarity in regulations they enforce.
“So I think DNR is clarifying that mistake that happened a long time ago,” said Stephanie Sell, a wildlife biologist with State Fish and Game who oversees hunting in the Chilkat Valley.
Sell says, if DNR lifts the restriction on discharge of weapons in the southern section of the park, hunting and trapping would be allowed by ADF&G.
“You know, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense that they would be able to hunt in the upper section that’s closer to town versus the southern section that’s kind of down on the peninsula,” Sells aid. “So I think when they were writing up the language, it got changed at the last minute and no one knows why. So I think people have been trying to fight and say, ‘Why can’t we hunt in the lower section? That seems more safe.'”
Sell says she’s heard from people throughout the years wondering why they couldn’t hunt moose in the southern portion of the park.
“This is kind of getting the ball rolling with listening to the public and going back and looking at the history of this regulation and rectifying what miscommunication happened well before my time,” she said.
Eberhardt, with DNR, says the issue was first brought to his attention about 15 years ago. He says, after hearing about it throughout the years, he decided to bring the issue ‘up the food chain’ at DNR to get it changed.
And Eberhardt says for DNR, the main purpose of the proposed change is to increase public safety. In almost all instances where weapons discharge is allowed in a state park, there’s a buffer zone around roads, trails, and other developed facilities. In the case of Chilkat State Park, that prohibition isn’t there.
“We don’t want the discharge of firearms within a half mile of a developed facility,” Eberhardt said.
He says the half-mile buffer would make safer areas that are currently unprotected, including Battery Point Trail and Mt. Riley Trail. He says he doesn’t know of any accidents that have happened because of that oversight.
“What I hope is it’ll prevent anyone from being injured in the future by clarifying our discharge of firearms [rules,]” Eberhardt said.
While DNR hopes the regulation change will help protect people, Sell hopes it will make hunting restrictions less confusing. She says, if the new wording were to pass before September 15, this year’s moose hunt would be allowed in a wider area of the Chilkat Peninsula.
“But you know, that being said, we allow somewhere between 20 and 25 bulls that have the right antler configuration to be harvested in the Chilkat Valley,” Sell said. “And if we start seeing a bunch of moose coming out of that southern section, that’s something I’m going to keep an eye on. You know, we don’t want to deplete populations that have been kind of protected for a while. But you know, it certainly opens up some more opportunity for people for sure.”
People interested in commenting on the proposed regulation changes have until this Friday at 5 p.m. to do so. Comments can be submitted to DNR by email, fax or mail.