Starting in June, there might not be a park ranger in Haines. Alaska State Parks is hiring for the position which oversees several parks in the borough, including Chilkoot State Park and the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Some local organizations worry about not having a ranger for the beginning of the summer season. They are concerned with keeping the parks functional and keeping wildlife and humans safe.
Parks specialist Tom Kain recently resigned for the post but will stay on the job through May. He started last fall after Ranger Preston Kroes transferred to Kodiak.
Southeast parks superintendent Mike Eberhardt says the department is in the process of hiring for another ranger, but doesn’t know how long it will take. The department will also be hiring for two seasonal park technicians.
Losing Kain so close to the tourist season has some local groups concerned with how the parks will be managed this summer, especially in the Chilkoot area. Pam Randles works with the Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation. She says without a ranger it’s up to volunteers and local law enforcement to help control human-bear interactions in the Chilkoot corridor.
“We need to have that person available to us because volunteers and technicians don’t have any authority all we can do is advise and talk to people but we have no authority to issue a ticket for example if someone does bait a bear.”
Shannon Donahue is executive director of the Great Bear Foundation – not to be confused with The Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation. Donahue used to work as a bear monitor at Chilkoot with state parks, but that position doesn’t exist anymore. Donahue says Chilkoot needs special attention by a ranger.
“Just in terms of compliance with the way people behave out there its really, really crucial that people understand the expectations that the state and communities have of their behavior out there and for that we need consistency and so we need to have a full staff there.”
Not every state park is managed by rangers. Some are overseen by park specialists. That’s what Kain did in Soldotna before taking the Haines job. But rangers receive training at the trooper academy so they can do more enforcement such as writing tickets and citations to people for things like wildlife harassment.
Randles says that’s an important part of the Haines job. She says she’s seen instances of bear baiting in the Chilkoot and other dangerous bear encounters. Those are the types of things a ranger can help control and prevent.
“We need to not have people getting away with that kind of stuff. Because that communicates to the public in general that that’s OK. And that kind of behavior can be very, very dangerous to humans and bears.”
Donahue agrees. She would like to see a consistent person in the ranger position here who doesn’t just focus on enforcement, but can safely manage all aspects of the state parks.
“I think enforcement is a really crucial part of the puzzle but I think the most important things are having a set of expectations, whether that’s regulations or guidelines that is communicated to the public clearly so the public knows what is expected of them and then it needs to be backed up by law enforcement.”
The Haines state parks office oversees seven parks including Chilkat State Park, the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, and the Chilkoot Lake, Mosquito Lake and Portage Cove recreation sites. The department also oversees two state marine parks in the area.