Opposition to HB 267: Snow Machine Use, Dalton Highway Corridor

While politics for me is like chewing an aspirin, I guess its my turn to chew a little …

HB 267 is a House Bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly and Rep. Mark Neuman and co-sponsored by Rep. Tammie Wilson. The bill will allow snowmachine (not other motorized vehicles) use on the Dalton highway corridor, north of the Yukon River from Oct. 1 to April 30. Use of motorized vehicles in this area is currently prohibited.

While I’m opposed to HB 267, I’m not against snowmachines and I’m not against hunting. I have and will continue to participate in both activities. It is also important to note that access to this public land is not currently prohibited. For years, centuries, and perhaps millennia, humans have traveled this landscape, hunting, foraging, hiking, and recreating. The driving of motorized vehicles on this land is currently prohibited. I have spent extensive time north of the Yukon River along the Dalton Highway corridor, hiking and photographing its beautiful landscape and wildlife. It is big country, with vast open regions and epic vistas. This is one of the few places that remains relatively unmarked (save for the Trans Alaska Pipeline–the reason for the roads existence) and unpopulated by the masses. There is no doubt that this in part, is what makes the place unique and special–to me and many others.

My opposition to HB 267 is not rooted in a legal framework, but rather from a contextual perspective of having traveled not only widely across the state of Alaska, but many parts of the world as well. From my travels around the globe I have seen man’s unfortunate impact and damage to many landscapes. It is unfortunately clear that we have proved ourselves effective at leaving unnecessary marks upon the earth, and that is being kind. In many cases, instead of being good stewards, we have disrespectfully trashed the land.

I see a huge value in having some parts of the landscape free from the motorized buzz of our transportation-frenzied society and its side effects. With motorized access comes increased impact: damage during low snow due to winds or minimal precipitation, seasonal transitions, increased violations, increased trash, etc., with the closest law enforcement officer dispatching from Fairbanks. Furthermore, the region in consideration is remote, with the most rudimentary services consisting of a few rest stops with trash bins. The road itself is used primarily by trucks that service the Prudhoe Bay Oil fields.

A few years ago in early October, I stopped at a rest stop along the Dalton Highway, and took the photos below. It baffles me that in remote Alaska’s arctic, people would drop a bag of waste next to a trash bin (a grizzly bear proof one at that) to be ripped open by ravens and blown across the tundra. It is not that increased traffic is intrinsically a bad thing, but when it results in activity like this, It is obviously a detriment, not a contribution. We have rights to access but not to destroy.

Bear proof, but not people proof trash containers at one of the few rest stops on the arctic north slope, Alaska.

Oddly, people can't make the necessary judgment when considering minimal services in Alaska's arctic.

Some years ago Ralph Seekins sponsored a bill that was passed into law, lifting the restriction for bow hunting within 1/4 mile of the Dalton Hwy. I personally don’t think that was a good idea either. In September of 2006, while watching a herd of bull caribou approach and cross the road, I captured this photo of a bow hunter laying in wait along the ditch in the road. I was not overly paranoid about getting shot with an arrow, but it was not beyond the realm of possibility, and well, it just does not really fit the picture of hunting to me.

Bow hunter lays in wait along the shoulder of the James Dalton Highway (Haul Road)

Bow hunter shoots a bull caribou crossing the Dalton highway in Alaska's arctic.

Wildlife viewing, sightseeing, and photography are also considerable venues of merit to Alaska, and they don’t really mix that well this closely to hunting activity. Incidentally, the bow hunter gut shot this caribou and it ran off with its entrails hanging out. Whether the hunter eventually got the animal, I don’t know. I think restricting hunting at least some distance from the road is a good idea for hunters and other users of the corridor, although it may not need to be 1/4 mile off the highway.

I say lets continue to enjoy, hunt, explore, hike snowshoe, ski, etc., along the Dalton Highway corridor, but lets be responsible stewards of a great landscape, one of the few not already trashed on this planet. And in this case, I believe its fine to leave the snowmachines at home.

I’d encourage anyone to make comments – express your thoughts – even if it is a simple I don’t agree with HB 267. You can contact Derek Miller, Legislative Aide, with your comments.  derek_miller@legis.state.ak.us, 907 465-6879

If you are local in Fairbanks, the bill, HB 267, is being heard by the Transportation Committee Thursday, March 11, at 1 pm.  You can participate in the hearing and testify through the local Legislative Information Office (on Sadler Way, upstairs in the big Alaska USA building next to Home Depot.)