March 8, 2012 | Vol 42, No. 10

Heli-ski law impedes goat research

The headline this week should have read, “Assembly enacts ordinance to block research on wildlife populations in Chilkat Valley.” After agonizing over minor details, the assembly voted to radically gut the new heli-ski GPS monitoring system. What the adopted ordinance essentially does is to block the daily GPS recordings of helicopter flight paths from being used by wildlife biologists who are studying the impacts of these flights on goat populations.

Sadly, most of the flight data that is being recorded by the GPS units is now going to end up in the trash, instead of helping us study and better understand whether heli-flights do or do not influence goat behavior. The assembly’s action seems to fly in the face of responsible governance. The majority of members casually declared: “If Fish and Game wants the GPS data, that’s not our concern, that’s between them and the operators.”

This is doubly irresponsible considering that the assembly failed to disclose the rest of the story: “…Oh, by the way, the public should know that in our packet is a letter from SEABA announcing their refusal to share the data with state agencies.”

Might I remind the assembly that over 10 years ago the people voted for a “managed” heli-ski industry, because of the potential impacts on humans and wildlife? Last year the assembly again expanded the allowable skier days. But it also finally made a commitment to monitoring the impacts with ongoing GPS tracking – so we thought, until last week.