Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/01/1996 11:45 AM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 198 HOMER AIRPORT CRITICAL HAB. AREA CHAIRMAN LEMAN called the Senate Resources Committee meeting to order at the Homer LIO at 11:45 a.m. and announced SB 198 to be up for consideration. SENATOR LINCOLN thanked them all for attending the meeting and hoped that the bill would be moving out right away. She asked Senator Leman why there was a Finance Committee referral if there was a $0 fiscal note. SENATOR LEMAN answered that the Resources Committee doesn't issue fiscal notes on bills. ROY E. HOYT, JR. said he had been a pilot since 1942 and in aviation for many years. He has a detailed knowledge of the Homer Airport and its surroundings. Thirty two years ago in the military he was in an accident caused by Canada geese coming through the windshield of a plane. A goose hit his student in the head breaking his neck and killing him. He thought it was irresponsible to have a critical habitat near the airport within city limits. It is impossible to enhance the area for moose without enhancing it for birds, too. He thought the residents of Homer should vote on it. Number 106 PAUL K. SEATON, supported SB 198. He said they had been trying to enhance the winter moose habitat by planting willows in the area on private lands and other lands. This would aid in the local effort that has been ongoing to improve the moose habitat. SENATOR LEMAN asked if what they were doing would enhance the bird population. MR. SEATON answered that he didn't think it would enhance it at all. MARLA MCPHERSON supported SB 198 and said every time she has flown into the airport at Homer in the winter she has counted 30 - 40 moose in the area. She thought the area should be preserved. She didn't think the issue of birds should be of concern. Number 158 DAISY LEEBITTER said she had been an Alaskan for over 41 years and supported SB 198 because of the educational, recreational, and tourism values associated with it. Through the years she has led people through the edge of the wetlands areas through the 11 acres of land trust and she has had a lot of public support so that trails were established and an observation platform was built. Number 202 JAN EAGLE said she was a new resident of Homer and said she moved there to live because of the beauty of the habitat, the wildlife, and the birding. She commented that it seems we need to learn to share habitat as both humans and animals exist and use the same areas. SENATOR LEMAN noted that there was a provision stating that it is subject to the authority of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to prohibit or remove an activity, installation, or object on the land that may enhance bird habitat on or in the vicinity of the Homer Airport. Another section says that neither the Department of Fish and Game or any other person may create, develop, or enhance bird habitat within the Homer Airport Critical Habitat Area. He thought that was a good point. KATHLEEN MOORE said her concern was with being able to continue multiple use of lands. She said she and her family use trails that go from Kachemak Bay to East Road. She said that moose are around the town only when the snow is too deep to be somewhere else unless there are problems with predation when they are calving. She supported Mr. Hoyt's concern with accidents from birds flying into planes and suggested that when people see large flocks of geese near the airport to let the airport know. SENATOR LEMAN asked Senator Torgerson if he knew of anything in this bill that would preclude that kind of activity. SENATOR TORGERSON replied, but the recording was indistinct (background noise). SENATOR LEMAN said they would look it over and make sure she would not be restricted. DAVE VANDERBRINK said he had been a member of the Wetlands Task Force. His primary interest from long observation is that there is a great deal of summer time moose habitat and very little for winter. That is his primary interest in establishing more area in the lower elevations for the moose to attempt to survive. He didn't think the bird problem would be of any great concern so long as managers don't make things too neat, for instance, making the grass too short which attracts geese. He didn't see how birds would be more of a problem in the future than they are now. GINO DEL FRATE, ADF&G Wildlife Biologist, testified, but the recording was indistinct due to background noise. Number 359 BOB MOSS supported SB 198 based on 50 years of watching changes and developments in the Homer area. He thought the point had been reached that this legislation was needed. He said they are working with the whole ecological system, not just one part. He said this issue has support from the city fathers and from the Division of Forestry. MILDRED MARTIN supported SB 198. She said many moose died in the winter of 1992 because the snow was too deep up on the mountain. She thought it was vital that they preserve the habitat for them and recognize the fact that everytime someone builds they are losing habitat. She said local support is very strong. Number 447 JOEL COWPER said he supported creating the habitat area for moose and for other species, as well. He thought everything should be done to protect the area. He said the birds were not a problem now. SENATOR LEMAN said it looked like it wasn't likely that the legislature would be able to fund any significant effort to enhance habitat. NANCY LORD supported SB 198. She was concerned that the session was half over and the bill was still in its first committee of referral. DENNIS LEACH, Homer City Council, said whenever testimony was taken on this issue, it was favorable. He explained that Homer is in the process of changing its main focus of economy from commercial fishing to tourism. There is a tremendous future there in tourism, but it's going to take some work. That particular herd of moose represents the vast majority of the watchable wildlife on the Peninsula. ELIZABETH WEBB, Pratt Museum Homer Society of Natural History, said they supported SB 198. She read a letter from the Society, representing about 800 members, reviewing the proposal for formation of a critical habitat area for the Beluga Wetlands. The board members were unanimously in favor of the proposal. She paraphrased comments from Dr. George West, a local ornithologist regarding bird populations and the aircraft hazard issue. He said when their task force was formed there was a healthy colony of 40 pairs of arctic Aleutian terns nesting in the marsh. Since that time the number of nesting terns has dwindled to two to three pairs. There are several species of duck which nest there, also. When there were more nesting birds in the area the task force was not aware of any trouble with aircraft. He assured everyone that even with critical habitat status there would continue to be increased pressure on habitat and birds from recreational use, so there would be even fewer birds, not more birds, to present a hazard to aircraft in the years to come. The effect of designating the Beluga Wetlands with critical habitat status will benefit the moose more than the birds. LYNN WHITMORE said he is co-chairman of the Beluga Wetlands Task Force and is the chairman of the Homer Fish and Game Advisory Committee. He strongly supported SB 198. JIM REARDON, a 40-year resident of Homer and a 46-year resident of Alaska, said he managed the wildlife department of the University of Alaska in 1950 and worked for the ADF&G for 12 years. He has also worked at the Homer Airport. He said the problem with the birds down there is that they seem to be diminishing and he didn't see how the critical habitat area would increase the danger from bird strikes by airplanes using the Airport. RON DRATHMAN, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly (KPBA), said there's really nothing you can do about the situation. It's not good to have an airport near developed land and if it is out of town there will be some animals around it. He said he thought we are fighting a losing battle against development, but we should do something to protect the area. NINA FAUST, Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, strongly supported SB 198. She thought it was a good idea to set aside areas of habitat for the economic infrastructure associated with tourism. Number 573 EDGAR BAILEY, Homer wildlife biologist, supported previous testimony of Jim Rinehart and George West. Being from California he has seen what has happened cumulatively with the lost habitat and if we don't use some foresight we are going to have the same thing happen in Alaska that is occurring in California. TAPE 96-22, SIDE B Number 580 He said the key wintering areas are what are in short supply. He thought this was an outstanding opportunity to look at cumulative impacts and have foresight and safeguard a very key area which is only a little more than a square mile. It is very essential for wintering moose populations. MR. BAILEY thought passage of this bill was extremely important and he didn't think there would be any real problem with birds because with the surrounding loss of habitat the bird problem is actually diminishing. HARRY GREGOIRE said there was a bird problem at the airport and they would continue to have a problem with enhancing the moose habitat. He said there was an accident at the airport that wasn't recorded. He said the economic base is dependent upon the airport. He said they need to make jobs. He found that $87 million dollars of land within the city limits of Homer is either State, federal, or Borough - non-taxed. That is one fourth of their total lands. DOT want to take another 600 feet (300 acres) which would wipe out the commercial D-2 property. MR. GREGOIRE said he was concerned about the airport's ability to function, but he didn't think SB 198 would keep it from being able to function. KEN CASTNER, Homer resident and private pilot, said he does a lot of his flying around Beluga Lake. He said the summer wind in Homer comes in from the Southwest and the proposed critical habitat area is his approach into Beluga Lake and he sees moose there most of the time. Moose aren't a big problem. He said that Beluga Lake is not the wildest place he flies in and out of. There are a lot of places that have animals and birds, especially large birds like swans, loons, and cranes, but that is just a factor in being an Alaskan pilot. Pilots carry experiences and relations of experiences around with them so they don't run into the same problems. Bird avoidance is part of the skills that you build. He really didn't see what the alternative was to making this a critical habitat. He would object to putting a tower up there for the approach to Beluga Lake. Short of killing every bird in the area he really didn't know how to avoid that problem. PAM BRODIE supported SB 198. She spends a lot of time out of doors and thought it was important to keep the area open to the moose. An unidentified Homer City Council member (Jack) wanted Homer to be a town where people could come in and see a herd of moose. He said the area on the north side of the runway and the small areas to the south are specifically targeted by moose. As pressures around these areas increase the population of birds decrease. We are stewards not only for now, but for generations to come. GARNER MCGINTY said he had been in Alaska for 50 years and had been all over. Moose and bird habitat is all over Alaska. He said there are two choices here. Either everyone moves out and lets the moose and birds have it or we have to work together. SENATOR TORGERSON thanked everyone for their participation at the meeting. SENATOR LEMAN also thanked his staff, Mary Vollendorf, and Eric Musser, staff to Speaker Gail Phillips, for their help. Number 451 SENATOR LEMAN recessed the meeting at 12:55 p.m.