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K-Bay State Park Talking Points

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Jet Skis, Bear-baiting, and More

Every 20 years or so the state park management plan is updated with new rules about what is allowed in the park.

An “Intent to Adopt” draft plan was recently released, and we have to make sure the park rules protect the things we value.

Below are the top issues identified by a KBCS/Friends of Kachemak Bay State Park working group.

Submit your comments on the K-Bay State Park Management Plan by January 22. Email: kbsp.comments@alaska.gov

What should be allowed in our state park?

Much of K-Bay is designated as a “scenic park,” which according to Alaska Statute 41.21.990 means a “relatively spacious areas of outstanding natural significance, where major values are in their natural geological, faunal or floral characteristics, the purpose of which is directed primarily toward the preservation of its outstanding natural features and where development is minimal and only for the purpose of making the areas available for public enjoyment in a manner consistent with the preservation of the natural values such as camping, picnicking, sightseeing, nature study, hiking, riding and related activities which involve no major modification of the land, forests or waters, and without extensive introduction of artificial features or forms of recreational development that are primarily of urban character.”

Jet Skis (Personal Watercraft/PWC)

What the Plan Says: “Incompatible. Should ADF&G change the regulation to allow PWC use in the CHA, DPOR may consider a similar change for consistent marine water management” (p. 72).

No Personal Watercraft in K-Bay State Park! Remove all language after “Incompatible” on page 72. The science is clear: PWC do much more harm than boats. A significant budget would be needed to enforce restrictions that could theoretically protect sensitive habitats, marine mammals, ducks, seabirds, nesting grounds and haul outs—as well as other users, such as kayakers, stand up paddle boarders, and people seeking peace and quiet. K-Bay has a budget for just one Ranger. No fiscal note, no PWC.

PWC are banned or severely restricted in most national parks and marine sanctuaries, as well as in many other waters across the country (including until very recently in the ADF&G-managed Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area) because the data show:

  • PWC are particularly harmful to fish, wildlife, and sensitive near-shore habitats.
  • They present unique and serious safety concerns.
  • Their unique use patterns and sound signature conflict with the needs of other user groups.
  • None of this has been altered with new models of PWC.

The evidence shows that PWC are not boats, they do not behave like boats, and they cannot be managed like boats. ADF&G’s 2017 Literature Review on PWC concluded that “the concerns that led to the jets prohibition in 2001 are valid today.” ADF&G’s sudden reversal on jet skis regulations in K-Bay appears to be politically motivated––as is not accompanied by a shred of evidence and runs against the recommendations provided by their own biologists. DPOR should not follow ADF&G in this decision.

Please include some of this peer-reviewed data on personal watercraft in your comments, and remember that according to Alaska Statute 41.21.990 a “scenic park” must be managed to ensure that major values are in their natural geological, faunal or floral characteristics, the purpose of which is directed primarily toward the preservation of its outstanding natural features:

  • While it is true that PWC are quieter than they used to be, this improvement is largely negated by the fact that they are often airborne - skipping over the water, digging in at turns, jumping, etc. Because the engine is much louder when out of the water, they have an irregular and particularly loud and disturbing sound signature that is especially disturbing to wildlife and other users (Snow, 1989). Repeated rapid changes in speed typical of PWC is more startling to wildlife than a vessel following a steady course at a steady speed (EPA 1979).
  • PWC tend to operate in groups, with multiple craft in small areas repeatedly crossing and recrossing their path at high speeds, revving, digging out, jumping, etc. This intense and concentrated activity pushes marine mammals and sea birds out of their homes (Snow, 1989; Asplund, 2000; Davenport and Davenport. 2006; Gentry, 1996; Richardson et al., 1995; Szaniszlo 1999.; Miller 2008, Green and Grigg, 2001).
  • Because PWC do not produce low-frequency long distance sounds underwater, they do not signal surfacing mammals or birds of approaching danger until they are very close to them, which may account for increased rates of collision (Gentry, 1996; Osborne, 1996).
  • PWC are more likely to destroy habitat than boats. Because they are generally of smaller size, with a shallower draft (4 to 9 inches) than most other kinds of motorized watercraft, they are more maneuverable, operable closer to shore and in shallower waters than other types of motorized watercraft (U.S. Dept. of Interior, 1998). These characteristics greatly increase the potential for PWC to disturb fragile nearshore habitats and organisms (NOAA 2020).
  • Personal watercraft have a higher rate of collision than any other type of boat according to the US Coast Guard (2008) and the National Transportation Safety Board (1998).
  • The National Transportation Safety Board reports that over 80% of boaters and PWC users have never received any type of boating instruction (1998) and the American Red Cross reports that PWC use is highest among boaters with little or no experience (1991). This inexperience is due, in part, to the fact that PWC are more likely to be rented or borrowed than any other vessel and almost half of PWC renters have operated a PWC only once or never (Mangione et al. 2000).
  • Even with attempts at improving the steering ability of current models, PWC can take up to 300 feet to stop from 60 mph and generally cannot be steered without using the throttle, as the great majority of them lack rudders (US Boat 2020).

Based on these data, we can expect that jet skis will run the fish and wildlife out of the bays and coves in the State Park. They will destroy the sensitive and productive habitats of the intertidal zone. They present a unique danger to other users, particularly kayakers, stand up paddle boarders, and other human powered craft. This is a park for everyone, not just for one particular user group. This is a park whose purpose is directed primarily toward the preservation of its outstanding natural features (Alaska Statute 41.21.990).

Docks.

What the plan says: “All docks will be constructed of non-polluting materials and any foam floatation used must be commercially encapsulated” (p. 82).

In addition to these requirements, private dock owners should also be required to remove their old and degraded docks, and should be heavily fined if their docks break up in the bay—11 AAC 12.050 prohibits people from bringing refuse or waste into the park.

K-Bay has had a lot of problems with derelict docks in recent years. According to Coastal Studies, polystyrene pieces are consistently the most common item found during their beach cleanups in the bay. Over the past years they’ve picked up many thousands of pieces of foam—many from Glacier Spit. These are the number of pieces of polystyrene that they’ve collected recently:

2019- 3,678  (low numbers overall)

2018- 12,839

2017- 12,999

2016- 8,141

2015-8,354

Fish, seabirds, and marine mammals eat this foam and is known to kill them. While encapsulated foam is a great improvement over the old polystyrene that degrades quickly, neither the old stuff or the new stuff should be allowed to float around in K-Bay (11 AAC 12.050). The Park should require that all old and degraded docks be removed before they break up. This way neighbors or park visitors can call the Park when they see a dock in disrepair, the Park can call the dock owner and let them know that they need to clean up their mess or face a heavy fine.  

Commercial Hatcheries.

What the Plan says: Incompatible. The state believes the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery operations are likely incompatible with park purposes and is exploring a phase-out of the hatchery, to include not renewing the CIAA operating agreement in 2031 (p. 104).

We support this position; however, it is in jeopardy. Representative Sarah Vance has submitted House Bill No. 52  "An Act providing that operation of the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery in Kachemak Bay is compatible with the functions of Kachemak Bay State Park; and providing for an effective date."

The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in SOP v. State of Alaska that permits to private entities that are not revocable at will and that are issued only to property owners constitute easements, and as such are disposals of an interest in State land. State law does not authorize disposals within legislatively designated park units. We believe that this ruling applies to the hatchery permits in Kachemak Bay State Park and would make the permits unconstitutional.

Fishery enchantment for commercial harvest is not appropriate in the park because of the significant likelihood that the raising and release of approximately 60.6 million pink salmon fry into Kachemak Bay every year constitutes a “major modification of the land and waters” as a result of fish food settling below pens, chemical discharges, and potential antibiotic use; large-scale carcass dumping; and the release of fry at orders of magnitude larger than the wild runs that were historically in Tutka Bay. These releases are associated with competition, predation, straying, as well as the drawing in of predators that eat wild populations. Tutka Bay hatchery pink salmon in all likelihood significantly disrupt the natural flora and fauna of the park, and for this reason can no longer be called “compatible” or “conditionally compatible” (Alaska Statute 41.21.990).

Invasive Species.

What the plan says: “The vectors of greatest concern for invasive spread into Kachemak Bay State Park are float planes, horse riding, domestic llamas, in holders landscaping, HEA and CIAA heavy equipment, and other public uses. Public outreach and education are paramount for early detection. Those accessing remote areas of the parks for any purpose should exercise caution and take preventative measures to prevent invasive spread” (p. 54).

Invasive species represent a serious threat to the “natural values” of our state park and state wilderness park. The park plan should be more explicit about how it will follow USDA protocol on invasive species for fixed wing aircraft and horses:

• On page 66-67, and on page 86, state that all private and commercial “floatplanes that move from one body of water to another must be cleaned if aquatic invasive species are present.”

• On page 126, the plan states: “This plan calls for expanded parking for horse trailers and for trails that would specifically allow horse use.” On page 127, the plan states “A parking area for the campground will include parking suitable for horse trailers.” It should also say in both of these places that horses will only be allowed if using “only certified weed-free hay and mulch.”

Bear Baiting, Trapping, and Firearms.

What the plan says: “The use and discharge of a weapon for the purpose of lawful hunting or trapping is allowed in Kachemak Bay State Park, except within one-half mile of a developed facility [i.e. campgrounds and trailheads]” (p. B - 5).

According to Alaska Code, "developed facility" includes a building, boat ramp, campground, picnic area, rest area, visitor information center, swim beach, trailhead, parking area, and a developed ski area (11 AAC 12.340).

No discharge of firearms, bear baiting, or trapping should be allowed within a mile of any campground or trailhead, or within quarter-mile of any trail.

Currently, the park follows ADF&G’s regulations for hunting, trapping, and bear baiting (with the addition of the prohibition of these activities within half mile of a developed facility). ADF&Gs regulations do not limit discharge of firearms or trapping around trails or campgrounds; they do limit baiting to a mile from a campground and 1/4 mile from a trail. We want the park to use ADF&G’s current standard for bear baiting for all discharge of firearms and trapping in the park.

According to 11 AAC 12.140, DPOR must allow hunting, bait stations, and trapping in the state park. However, the Cooperative Agreement between DPOR and ADF&G (p. F-1) makes it clear that the park has the responsibility and authority to ensure that ADF&G regulations are a good fit for the park: that is why they say no discharge of firearms within a 1/2 mi of a developed facility, when ADF&G has no such restriction. Trail users and campers need more protection from these risky practices.

Water Taxies and Air Taxies

What the Plan Says: “May be authorized under 11 AAC 18 subject to conditions that mitigate use conflicts and protect park resources” (p. 94).

The plan should state that a condition of any commercial operator permit is an annual training on best practices and legal restrictions related to marine mammals, seabirds, migratory birds, invasive species, and the impacts of jet engines to the marine life in shallow waters. This would be especially impactful for water taxies and air taxies.

Snow Machine and Four-wheelers.

What the plan says: “Compatible. Allowed without authorization only on existing roads and parking areas.” (Page 76).

The definition of a "road" or "parking area" means the travelled portion of a vehicular way or area maintained by the state for the purpose of allowing access or parking by registered highway vehicles (11 AAC 12.020).

Snow machines and off-road vehicles should be incompatible.

There are no existing roads and no plans to build any roads. There is no existing authorized use. If a roads were to be built, there is no proposed management for these potentially harmful vehicles and there is no budget for management. This is particularly necessary if the park continues to zone significant areas of the park as “Recreational.”

Bikes and Power Driven Mobility Devices.

What the plan says: Personal Mobility Devices—may be authorized under 11 AAC 18.010 on designated trails on the north side of bay for the mobility impaired only. Prohibited on all other lands (p. 76).

Bikes—Allowed on existing roads and parking areas consistent with 11 AAC 12.020. Conditionally Compatible; May be authorized under 11 AAC 18.010 in other areas and trails designated for use until a regulation is promulgated to allow use on designated trails designed to accommodate bicycles without authorization.

Bikes and ADA mobility devices should be conditionally compatible on beaches in the state park.

Don’t cut the Wilderness Zones and Add Recreational Zones without Guardrails to protect the Park.

As the population and visitor industry of Homer grows and as the park intensified user access, the park must identify concrete ways that the scenic and wilderness values will be preserved and protected, through limits on vehicles, number of visitors, etc. (Alaska Statute 41.21.990). Zoning cannot be made more intense without sideboards for the “preservation of its outstanding natural features” (Alaska Statute 41.21.990).

This plan moves the park toward more intensive development without any  corresponding concrete plan for how increased development and access will be managed to protects the values of the park (Alaska Statute 41.21.131).

It is necessary to acknowledge that with increased visitors and development comes the need for increased management to protect the values of the park. The plan should specify what conditions will trigger increased development as well as the conditions (eg. Number of visitors, reduction of wildlife in important habitat that also has large numbers of visitors) that would trigger limitations on development.  It should also  outline what mechanisms are at the park’s disposal to protect the “relatively spacious areas of outstanding natural significance, where major values are in their natural geological, faunal or floral characteristics, the purpose of which is directed primarily toward the preservation of its outstanding  natural features and where development is minimal” (Alaska Statute 41.21.990). Such mechanisms could include restricting where roads are allowed, setting caps on helicopters and fixed wing aircraft landings.

In the old plan, the alpine was all zoned Wilderness and the lower areas of the park were all zoned Natural. Now, the alpine is zoned as Natural and areas around Glacier Spit, Tutka and Halibut Cove/China Poot are zoned Recreational.

What does this mean? The kinds of activities that are allowed int he different zones are in the Alaska State Park System: Statewide Framework, 1982:  

Recreational Zone:  The developments allowed in this zone include roads, private vehicle and public transportation routes or access, visitor and interpretive centers, park management facilities and commercial lodges or resorts. High intensity activities related to the use of these developed facilities are generally encouraged. Summer and winter off-road vehicles and other motorized recreational vehicles may be allowed in this zone.

Natural Zone: Allowable developments include -but are not limited to -backcountry shelters, public-use cabins, high standard hiking and bicycle trails (paved or gravel), bridges and roads where necessary to access development zones and as provided for in an approved management plan. Snowmobiles may be allowed in this zone -within specifically designated areas -depending on resource sensitivities and potential conflicts with other park uses. Other private, motorized off-road vehicle use is generally prohibited within this zone.

Wilderness Zone: A wilderness zone should have no man-made conveniences within its boundaries except for the most primitive of trails with minimum trail maintenance, bridges, and signing.


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Guiding Principles from the Alaska Constitution and State Laws:

State parks are to be preserved for the use, enjoyment, and welfare of the people (Alaska Constitution, Article 8).

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Kachemak Bay State Park was the first state park in Alaska and it was created “in order to protect and preserve this land and water for its unique and exceptional scenic value, the park is established and shall be managed as a scenic park. The land and water lying within the following described parcels is reserved from all uses incompatible with its primary function as a scenic park…” (Alaska Statute 41.21.131).

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Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park was established “in order to protect and preserve this land and water for its unique and exceptional wilderness value, the park is established and shall be managed as a wilderness park.” (Alaska Statute 41.21.140).

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The definitions of a scenic park and a wilderness park are:

(1) "Scenic Park" means relatively spacious areas of outstanding natural significance, where major values are in their natural geological, faunal or floral characteristics, the purpose of which is directed primarily toward the preservation of its outstanding natural features and where development is minimal and only for the purpose of making the areas available for public enjoyment in a manner consistent with the preservation of the natural values such as camping, picnicking, sightseeing, nature study, hiking, riding and related activities which involve no major modification of the land, forests or waters, and without extensive introduction of artificial features or forms of recreational development that are primarily of urban character; (Alaska Statute 41.21.990).

(2) "Wilderness Park" means an area whose predominant character is the result of the interplay of natural processes, large enough and so situated as to be unaffected, except in minor ways, by what takes place in the non-wilderness around it, a physical condition which activates the innermost emotions of the observer and where development of man-made objects will be strictly limited and depend entirely on good taste and judgment so that the wilderness values are not lost. (Alaska Statute 41.21.990).

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