Some of the most debated activities in the Northern Lynn Canal – like heliskiing and mining – happen on federal lands. 320,000 acres are managed by Dennis Teitzel of the Bureau of Land Management. He works in an office in Glennallen but recently came for a routine visit with borough officials and local organizations.
Teitzel is responsible for BLM lands stretching from Cantwell to Ketchikan. He says the one unusual thing about the lands he manages around Haines and Skagway is the local community involvement.
“Here is Haines we have a very engaged, very concerned borough government, which is a good thing because we have an entity who has the authority and can help us in determining which issues are important.”
Two particularly interesting issues to Chilkat Valley residents are heliskiing and mining. The BLM hasn’t had much to do with commercial heliskiing near Haines in recent years – regulation of the industry falls mostly to the Haines Borough.
But BLM actually has more control over heliskiing than people might realize. That’s because they have authority over 40 percent of the quarter million acres that could be used for commercial heliskiing in the Haines Borough. But the federal agency hasn’t given permission to use any of those lands in about decade. That happened with the land management plan called the Ring of Fire was appealed.
“Years ago, when the Ring of Fire plan was approved and then the appeals went on, the BLM stopped permitted heliskiing because that was one of the issues that was protested,” Teitzel said. “And the main concern is the goat habitat because of the uniqueness of the goat population in this area.”
But two years ago it was discovered at least one local company operated on BLM land without permission. That happened when a skier died after a cornice collapse and the company, Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures, reported the location of the accident to the Haines Borough.
SEABA struck a plea deal and paid a fine for the infraction.
“And that’s what brought it to light that it was still going on and brought up the fact that there still was a need for permitting on BLM,” Teitzel said.
Teitzel says he consulted with the borough, Lynn Canal Conservation, Takshanuk Watershed Council, Klukwan and Chilkoot Indian Association before granting three commercial heliski permits this season near Haines for a total of 300 landings. He says the department will continue to work with the borough and companies to examine permits each season while work on the Ring of Fire plan continues.
BLM is also watching the Constantine Mineral Resources exploration at the Palmer Project. Teitzel says BLM gets involved in mining issues at various steps and one is when a company disturbs more than five acres of land while exploring. Constantine is currently at 4.9 acres of disturbance, between its drilling platforms and a road they re-established along Glacier Creek last year. If the company wants to continue exploring on more land, it will have to file a plan with BLM.
Teitzel says the agency has talked to Constantine about what is required in a plan for expansion, but hasn’t received one yet. If they do, and once BLM decides the plan is complete, the agency will start a public process on the plan, also called the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.
“The public NEPA process, depending on how extensive the plan is, it will take up to several months to a year or more depending on what we need to do,” Teitzel said. “And we don’t know what that is until we receive a plan.”
Teitzel discussed other issues with local officials and organizations during his visit including the shooting range/dump and Mt. Ripinsky trailhead at 7 Mile Haines Highway.
In Skagway, BLM permits helicopter flightseeing tours. Teitzel says the only other issue BLM is aware of near Skagway is an informal inquiriy for a flood monitoring station on BLM land.