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Conservation Groups Intervene to Protect Alaska's National Parks


November 5, 2003
Wednesday - 1:20 am

Anchorage, Alaska - On Tuesday the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Alaska Center for the Environment (ACE), and The Wilderness Society (TWS) came to the defense of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska, intervening on behalf of the National Park Service in a lawsuit filed by a family who have illegally bulldozed a road through the park. The conservation groups are represented in the case by Trustees for Alaska.

"National parks belong to all Americans. Everyone has to follow the same rules so that these places are available for everyone to enjoy," said Jim Stratton, Alaska Regional Director for NPCA. "We cannot afford to stand idly by while basic protections are ignored at the expense of some of our nation's most valued parklands."

In spring 2002, the Hale family (also known as "The Pilgrims") purchased 410 acres on McCarthy Creek in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Access to the inholding at the time of purchase was by foot, horseback, airplane, or snow machine. But in the summer of 2002, the Hales illegally bulldozed a 14-mile swath through the park to establish a "road" from their house to the town of McCarthy. The Hales never sought the required permits from the Park Service and rebuffed all attempts by the Park Service to defuse the situation. The Hales' cabin burned down in April, but they still failed to apply for permits to cross park lands, choosing instead to bring supplies in by air.

Now, in a request for "emergency access" to the site, submitted in late October 2003, the Hales have applied for permits to make 13 trips with a bulldozer pulling a 16-foot trailer filled with heavy construction materials. The trips would span a two-month period and start "immediately." This request would entail nearly 300 stream crossings of McCarthy Creek, a spawning stream for anadromous dolly varden trout, so the Park Service is required by federal law to conduct a full environmental review. When the National Park Service refused the Hales' demand for immediate approval of the permit, the Hales filed a lawsuit Monday, claiming that ANILCA and an ancient mining statute called RS 2477 let them build roads across park lands without asking permission from the National Park Service. The Hales are being assisted by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a radical property-rights advocacy group based in California.

"It is clear that property-rights extremists are using this case to further their own special interest political agenda," said Eleanor Huffines, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. "The Park Service has a duty to protect national parks for all Americans. Secretary Gale Norton has repeatedly said that bogus road claims like this one won't be allowed in national parks and other protected places. Now is the time for her to live up to that promise and vigorously defend the park."

In response to the illegal bulldozer activity, the Park Service closed the newly established road to motor vehicles on April 8, 2003. Subsequent to that action, on several occasions the Park Service has outlined the required process, the time involved, and what information is needed to begin the necessary environmental review. The Hale family has refused to engage the Park Service in this process. An environmental review is required of anyone seeking an access permit across park land. The need to engage the Park Service in a discussion about the most reasonable and feasible method of access is set forth in regulations established by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA) and is necessary to protect park resources from trespass and damage caused by illegal motorized use.

The Hale property is adjacent to an existing airstrip and is easily accessible by air. For more than 200 towns, cities, and villages in Alaska the only means of access is by air, including Juneau, the state capitol.



Sources of News Release:

National Parks Conservation Association - Web Site
Wilderness Society - Web Site
Alaska Center for the Environment - Web Site
Trustees for Alaska - Web Site


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