October 4, 2012 | Volume 43, No. 40

LCC revives claim against jetboat wakes

For the third time since 2004, Lynn Canal Conservation says it has evidence of Chilkat River Adventures tour company damaging fish habitat in the upper Chilkat River.

LCC filed a complaint with the state Division of Parks recently, providing what it says are photographs of the company violating its permit 27 times in July and August.

The alleged violations came when jetboats created a wake in a no-wake zone in the Sheep Canyon Lake access channel, the group says. The area of the tours is inside the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. 

In a brief, written statement, River Adventures owner Karen Hess said the company “adheres to the guidelines that we are permitted for” and would withhold further comment.

The Haines-based group is asking Parks to impose penalties, remove the channel from the tour route, stabilize bank channels by planting vegetation, assess the company’s tour route for erosion, and re-evaluate allowing commercial jet boats in salmon habitat areas in the Kelsall delta area in May and September.

  “The near-shore area is rearing habitat for juvenile salmon, so streambank integrity is extremely important,” said Nancy Berland.

A 2007 Superior Court ruling upheld a decision by the state that commercial jet boat activities “will not cause long-term negative impacts to the area,” according to a 2011 memo from Jackie Timothy, regional supervisor for Fish and Game’s Habitat Division.

Timothy’s memo recommends maintaining the no-wake requirement in the channel while the Division of Parks analyzes satellite imagery to detect change from erosion. The memo also recommends updating the eagle preserve management plan.

According to Fish and Game, the channel is home to rearing coho and king salmon as well as populations of cutthroat and Dolly Varden trout.

Parks needs to fulfill its responsibility to manage and oversee commercial use in the preserve, according to Scott Carey, LCC president. “(Fish and Game) requested monitoring and enforcement in the Sheep Canyon Lake area years ago due to previously documented violations and evidence of wake-induced erosion in high value rearing habitat. Without consequences, there is no incentive for the operator to abide by permit stipulations.”

  Berland said Fish and Game studies show the channel is a high-value rearing area. Bank erosion was measured from 2002 through 2004, and up to 98 percent was attributed to boat wakes, she said. “There’s no erosion source inside the channel besides these wakes.”

Tour boats aren’t allowed into Sheep Canyon Lake and removing the channel from allowable areas would eliminate only about a half-mile stretch, she said. “It’s a very small part of their tour.”

Eroding eagle habitat by diminishing fish habitat violates the stated purpose of the preserve, Berland said. Careful management by the state would include surveillance of the tour, she said. “If they’re unwilling to do that, (the state) shouldn’t issue a permit.”

Jetboats operate in the Kelsall delta, upstream of Sheep Canyon Lake, during sockeye spawning in September and in May, when sockeye eggs are still in gravel, Berland said.

“Other studies have shown that much smaller boats can cause salmon egg mortality. Erosion of near-shore rearing areas and egg mortality are entirely at odds with the Preserve’s legislative mandate to protect salmon in perpetuity.  State agencies need to do a better job of ensuring that resources that are so vital to our community and region are not damaged.”

  Mike Eberhardt, regional supervisor for the state Division of Parks, said the state would investigate the complaint and take it seriously.

“They’ve provided us information before that has not led to any citations. People can present all sorts of stuff. That doesn’t necessarily make it valid. But we take all such complaints seriously,” Eberhardt said.

One issue to be considered is the definition of what River Adventures is supposed to be doing or not doing, he said. “When other people think they know what (Department of Natural Resources) or (Fish and Game) are supposed to be doing is when conflicts happen.”