As we welcome our first visitors to Haines for the heliski season, the Borough is taking steps to safeguard our community with Covid mitigation protocols. The Borough should also be taking steps to safeguard our wildlife from the impact of recreational helicopter activity on public lands.

The Alaska Dept of Fish & Game has documented a decline in the Mountain Goat population in the Takhinsha Mountains west of the Chilkat River and closed the area to hunting. Bear and wolverine populations could also be at risk. Has 20 years of helicopter activity in one of the most heavily used areas by the heliski permit holders caused this population decline? It is possible if not probable.

According to the State and Feds, the Haines Borough is responsible for managing helicopter recreation within its boundaries. Successful management depends on cooperation and compromise from the permit holders. The message we have gotten from them is wildlife, what wildlife? The goats are fine.

Wherever heli-skiing occurs in North America it is heavily regulated because of the impacts from the noise and disruption to wildlife and people. In British Columbia the permit holders work hand in hand with wildlife biologists and land managers to mitigate their impacts. Why can’t that happen here? Instead of cooperation on the last Borough map committee, of which I was a member, we got stonewalled by an out-of-state representative of one of the companies until the clock ran out and the assembly halted further discussion. We can do better.

Thom Ely