Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Code revisions target hunting, fishing guides


January 30, 2020

Proposed changes to Haines tourism code would require all hunting and fishing charters to apply for commercial tour permits with the borough. At present, businesses that serve six or fewer customers per hunting or fishing trip are exempt from applying for tour permits.

The proposal came from borough staff as part of a larger effort to revise Title Five in Haines Borough code, which covers business licenses, permits, and regulated activities. The proposed ordinance met with strong opposition at a Tourism Advisory Board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 23. Members expressed concern that those potentially impacted by the change might not be aware of it.

“(Hunting and fishing guides are) not going to know to look at Title Five and think, oh gee, I better go to this meeting,” said Diana Lapham, the board’s vice chair.

“I think those people should legitimately be made aware and given a chance to comment,” board member Sean Gaffney said. “This is no judgement on the action… I just want right process so people don’t feel like their government is sneaking a fast one by.”

Members also disagreed with the substance of the change. 

“We always do lip service to ‘we support business,’ and in fact all we ever do from many perspectives is create additional hurdles and barriers,” Gaffney said. For him, the key is balancing the community’s desire to monitor tourism with the need to support entrepreneurs.

Andy Hedden, the board’s newly elected chair suggested an exemption for guides who serve a non-impactful number of clients annually.

At present, a fishing or hunting guiding company with a total of six or fewer customers per trip must obtain a business license from the borough and the state in order to operate. Under the proposed changes, a new business meeting these criteria would need to apply for a tour permit in addition to its business licenses. In some cases, a single business might need to obtain multiple tour permits if the tours it offered involved distinct “primary activities” like motorized watercraft and motorized vehicles. While Haines currently has a moratorium on new tour permits, it is anticipated that existing hunting and fishing guiding businesses would be grandfathered in and allowed to obtain a permit, said borough clerk Alekka Fullerton.

“It’s a consistency issue,” Fullerton said. She compared a two-person photo tour with a guided fishing operation that sells to cruise ships. Under current law, only the photo tour company would need a commercial tour permit. Her job is to apply borough code equally, she said. “There’s no rational reason to exclude (hunting and fishing tours).” Although, she said she sees a distinction between someone who comes to Haines to hunt and pays for a local guide, and a company that sells hunting or fishing tour packages to cruise ship passengers.

“The only legitimization (for the existing exemptions) I’ve heard is ‘because we’ve always done it,’” she said. “I’m not sure that’s a good reason.”

Other changes to tourism code proposed by borough staff include: language codifying a 1996 advisory vote that banned helicopter tours; increased fees for tour permit applications based on the number of people a company serves; and the use of tour-permit revenue to fund Port Chilkoot dock repairs. In addition to these, the Tourism Advisory Board has proposed a Title Five change that would move up the heli-ski season start date to Dec. 1, and the heli-ski map committee recommended a new, five-year timeline for redrawing the heli-ski boundary map.

The Tourism Advisory Board is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. to finalize its recommendations for the Title Five revisions. These recommendations, along with those proposed by borough staff and the heli-ski committee, will be sent to the assembly’s commerce committee for final approval.


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