Senator Ralph Seekins Scales Back Dalton Highway Proposal



EVICTION:  Senator says he wants to protect area trappers


The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / April 1, 2004


JUNEAU - A senator from Fairbanks plans to scale back his proposal to open the Dalton Highway corridor to off-road vehicle use.
Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that he wants to transform the bill into a smaller proposal to protect a group of trappers near Dalton at risk of being evicted.

"This year I want to make sure I've protected those trappers," Seekins said. "I think I have agreement from just about everybody that I've talked to to do that, to make sure that doesn't happen."

Seekins had proposed that the state lift a ban on almost all use of snowmachines and all-terrain vehicles within 5 miles of either side of the Dalton Highway north of the Yukon River at 56 Mile. He introduced the bill on the argument that Alaskans should have access to the millions of acres of public land on either side of the highway.

He also introduced the bill as a way to nullify a decision by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land along the Dalton from the Yukon to about 100 miles south of Deadhorse, to begin enforcing the ban.

Earlier this year, the BLM informed trappers in the area that the use of off-road vehicles to access their traplines may soon be deemed illegal, depending on an upcoming legal decision.

According to BLM realty specialist Boyce Bush, the decision would affect four or five trappers who would have to both stop using snowmachines on their traplines and tear down about three trapper cabins.

Trappers, hunters and off-roaders support Seekins' bill, except for bowhunters, who currently have the exclusive opportunity to hunt game in the road corridor without the noise of rifles or ATVs.

Subsistence hunters from the area of the Dalton have strongly opposed the concept, arguing that the potential for easy hunting access will cut down on subsistence game numbers and could affect migration patterns.

Seekins amended the bill earlier this month to lift the off-road vehicle restriction from the Yukon to 235 Mile of the Dalton, around 50 miles north of Wiseman. On Tuesday, Seekins said he intends to make the bill a simple measure to exempt established trappers from the restrictions.

Seekins said one major concern he has with a larger proposal is that the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which owns the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, could be liable for damages to the area or to the pipeline itself caused by off-roaders.

"If someone did damage with their snowmachines or their all-terrain vehicles to the terrain, to the environment, they could be held solely responsible for that," Seekins said.



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