Legislature(2015 - 2016)BUTROVICH 205
04/13/2015 03:30 PM RESOURCES
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HB 153-PALMER HAY FLATS GAME REFUGE 3:32:21 PM CHAIR GIESSEL announced consideration of HB 153 [CSHB 153(RES), version E, was before the committee]. REPRESENTATIVE COLVER, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, as sponsor, introduced HB 153. He explained that it expands the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge, which was established in 1975, to basically encompass the deltas of the Matanuska and Knik Rivers, Cottonwood Creek and Wasilla Creek, all areas that had dropped two feet in the 1964 Earthquake. A lot of it was uplands before it dropped and became salt water marshes. The estuary is important for water fowl, and shorebirds; it also has a lot of overwintering moose, because the browse is readily available and the snow is not deep. It's a multi-use management area managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) with a management plan. Common activities are bird hunting, water fowl hunting, viewing at Reflection Lake, moose hunting, trapping, bird dog training and sport fishing; the Machetanz Elementary School is also located in the area and sent about 200 letters in support of the refuge expansion. 3:33:07 PM SENATOR MICCICHE joined the committee. REPRESENTATIVE COLVER said this bill came about because the Board of Game passed a proposal recommending that the legislature add state-owned lands to the refuge. The available lands were traded to the state for the specific purpose of being included in the refuge and have been managed as such. This includes 2,900 acres that were acquired as far back as 1989. He explained that motorized vehicles are allowed and the management plan has conditions for things like snow machining and designated trails for motorized four-wheelers because of certain wetland areas. 3:36:00 PM SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI joined the committee. SENATOR COSTELLO moved to adopt the work draft SCS CSHB 153( ), labeled 29-LS0653\N, as the working document. CHAIR GIESSEL objected for discussion purposes. REPRESENTATIVE COLVER said other lands were acquired that were managed by DNR through an Interagency Land Management Assignment Plan (ILMA) and displayed maps of the refuge and the parcels being moved into it. He said the CS on page 3, lines 25 through page 4, line 1, adds a legal description of the ILMA lands that explicitly excludes the Railroad right-of-way from inclusion in the refuge. SENATOR MICCICHE said he saw letters of support only and asked if there had been any opposition. REPRESENTATIVE COLVER answered that HB 153 had received no opposition and had reached out to sporting groups like Ducks Unlimited, the Outdoor Council and some conservation groups. 3:41:37 PM SENATOR MICCICHE remarked that the letters from the kids were pretty incredible. SENATOR COGHILL said there was a question on covenants and asked what things were restricted on this particular refuge. REPRESENTATIVE COLVER said he wasn't that well versed and that the department could better address that. 3:42:49 PM WYN MENEFEE, Chief of Operations, Division of Mining, Land and Water, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Anchorage, Alaska, answered that the ADF&G manages the refuge and the DNR co- manages if there are certain types of easements for power lines and such; those are allowed within the refuge. 3:43:25 PM BRUCE DALEN, Acting Director, Division of Wildlife Conservation, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), explained that when property was acquired through Great Land Trust, Nature Conservancy and others, the deeds had restrictions for refuge purposes only. The management plan for the refuge that would apply to these lands include snow machine use before the ground is sufficiently frozen and there is sufficient snow for snow machine use, a seasonal horsepower restriction for boats and a restriction of 4-wheelers to trails. SENATOR COGHILL said he was concerned that at one end they are closer to the occupied areas and the other end is closer to wilderness and asked if bow hunting was restricted. MR. DALEN answered that the Palmer Wasilla management area, which encompasses much of this area, is a weapons restricted hunt, so large caliber rifles are not permitted, but that is not specific to the refuge. CHAIR GIESSEL removed her objection and said the Senate CS, version N, is adopted. She opened public testimony. 3:45:49 PM HERMAN GRIESE, Alaskans for Palmer Hay Flats Game Refuge, Palmer, Alaska, supported HB 153. He was a Palmer wildlife biologist while the conservation lands were being accumulated but not being added to the refuge. The refuge had no manager until the later part of the 1990s. They dealt with trash at all the access sites; one was commonly referred to "Rambo Rest Stop." Those sites required a tremendous amount of effort to maintain cleanliness over the years, but in 2004 a group of citizens called the Alaskans for Palmer Hay Flats Game Refuge was formed to take that task on and became a 501 (c)(3) in 2006. Their goal was to improve the access sites for cleanliness and make them amenable to bringing school classes down for education programs. The Cottonwood Creek and Reflections Lake, Knik River (has boat access) and Rabbit Slew are the primary access points to the refuge. This bill would include those and a very important site on the western side, the Cowboy Creek access. It would be good to have entire tract in the refuge and the sponsor had worked very hard to make sure it meets the requirements of the refuge. 3:50:31 PM SENATOR STEDMAN joined the committee. TOM ROTHE, representing himself, Eagle River, Alaska, supported HB 153. He and his wife often use the Palmer Hay Flats Refuge for hunting water fowl. He is the one who wrote a proposal to the Board of Game (BOG) to amend the refuge boundaries to redefine the legal area to include the new conservation lands that were available to the state. He also worked for ADF&G for 25 years as a water fowl coordinator; part of his duties were to manage wetland habitats useful for ducks and geese, including the managing the State Duck Stamp Program, which provided some funding as seed money to enhance management of places like Palmer Hay Flats. He emphasized that this is a win-win situation, because the people who own this land ended up owning a lot of wetlands that are unbuildable due to subsidence from the earthquake and various other events that made the whole area wetlands. When ADF&G partnered with other conservation groups and private interests, it was an opportunity for non-governmental folks go to those owners and offer them a fair value for their lands along with some tax incentives. Ultimately, the various partners brought over $1.5 million, mostly private dollars, to the table. Conservation grants were used along with State Duck Stamp and Sport Fishing Access funds as seed money to get these transaction done. So, there was almost no cost to the state to acquire these 3,000 or so acres. The ultimate winners are the public who gets access where before it would have been trespassing. They get fish and wildlife habitat, like wetlands and shrub lands that are good for moose habitat, and streams that are running with salmon. 3:54:26 PM MR. ROTHE said he got into this ultimately, because he felt like including these legally into the refuge really fulfilled promises to all the partners that stepped up with money to provide the public with these benefits. He said these lands came to the state with covenants on them but generally say these lands should be used for refuge purposes, and they are subject to a really good comprehensive management plan and a set of regulations to make sure the use is diverse but reasonable. CHAIR GIESSEL thanked him for his efforts and finding no further comments, closed public testimony. SENATOR STOLTZE said he appreciated Representative Colver's efforts. 3:56:58 PM SENATOR COSTELLO moved to report SCS CSHB 153(RES), version N, from committee with individual recommendations and attached zero fiscal note. There were no objections and it was so ordered.