After denying a former Haines bear monitor a permit to conduct small-scale bear-viewing tours along the Chilkoot River, the Haines Borough Assembly reversed its decision and voted unanimously to award the permit at its April 9 meeting.
The assembly split 3-3 during its March 26 meeting on whether to issue the permit to the Great Bear Foundation, a Montana-based non-profit whose executive director, Shannon Donahue, worked as the bear monitor along the Chilkoot River for several years. Mayor Stephanie Scott broke the tie vote, denying the permit.
Assembly member Dave Berry, who originally voted against the permit, asked for reconsideration of the motion.
Berry said he is concerned that the Great Bear Foundation is seeking to be recognized as a non-profit by the borough, but that he doesn’t have a problem with the actual tour. The non-profit request is being addressed through a separate agenda item that will come before the assembly at a future meeting.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel, who also initially voted against issuing the permit, said she changed her mind for several reasons, “primarily because the arguments made by many of the people in the community who are involved and engaged in the tourism industry feel (and who)very strongly that it is not the purpose of our permitting function to be managing a state park.”
Scott, who also voted against the permit during its first appearance on the assembly’s agenda, said she spoke with Donahue after the meeting and was persuaded Donahue’s tours are geared toward education, not merely gawking at bears.
“I have been convinced that her tour isn’t a tour; it’s a class. Her tourists are students and the students of the Great Bear Foundation will be prepared to be advocates of the multiple-use management of wildlife corridors,” Scott said, adding she intended to sign up for a tour.
Donahue told the assembly at the first meeting her tours would focus primarily on educating clients about bear ecology, behavior and safety, and would be priced so as not to undercut or compete with current tour operators.
Profits from the tours would fund the Great Bear Foundation’s “bigger picture” objectives in Haines, including bear education programs, informational materials, and other free services geared toward making residents and visitors more knowledgeable about bear ecology and human-bear interactions, she said.
Donahue said she will still be seeking non-profit status from the borough for the Great Bear Foundation. “I would still like to be recognized as a tax-exempt non-profit by the borough, as we are by the state and federal government, but we would absolutely have every intention of charging sales tax for the tours,” Donahue said.
Assembly members voiced concerns during the March 26 meeting that non-profit status might allow the foundation to avoid paying sales tax.