Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg heard more testimony in Haines on Tuesday in a case that pits local subsistence fishermen against private land owners. The trial of Rosalie and Reuben Loewen versus the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources stems from a dispute over the right to access a Chilkoot River hooligan fishing spot with the use of vehicles.
The case is about the issue of a public, prescriptive easement clause in the Loewens’ deed. The easement, if granted, would allow subsistence fishermen to access the fishery by driving vehicles down the bank on the Loewens’ property. The state is no longer involved as the defendant, but co-defendants include Alaska Native organizations. Along with the easement, they are asking for a court order preventing the Loewens from interfering with their use of the land in question.
Pallenberg will hear closing arguments Wednesday in Juneau.
The Loewens say fishing is fine, but they don’t want people to drive down. They say vehicles could damage the sensitive habitat at the water’s edge. But Native users say vehicles are necessary for bringing Elders to the spot, and for hauling out the thousands of pounds of fish.
So, after the final statements, Pallenberg will be tasked with sifting through stacks of documents and photographs, and hours of testimony to decide on the easement and the court order.
Pallenberg has six months to decide, but he said, in all likelihood it won’t take that long. In the meantime, hooligan season on the Chilkoot is just around the corner. Attorneys for the Loewens and for the interveners in the case – the Haines chapter of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, Chilkoot Indian Association and Sealaska – agreed that specific subsistence fishermen could use the area with vehicles during the upcoming season.
The judge told the court that this agreement does not signify any admission, nor will it taint his final decision. Closing arguments start at 2:30 on Wednesday. Tune into KHNS Wednesday evening for a full story on the trial.
An error in yesterday’s story about the trial stated that Kristen Miller, the lawyer for the co-defendants, worked for the state. We regret the error.