Legislature(2015 - 2016)BARNES 124
03/30/2015 01:00 PM House RESOURCES
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|Confirmation(s): Fisherman's Fund Advisory and Appeals Council|
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HB 153-PALMER HAY FLATS GAME REFUGE 1:54:45 PM CO-CHAIR TALERICO announced that the next order of business is HOUSE BILL NO. 153, "An Act expanding the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge." 1:55:15 PM REPRESENTATIVE JIM COLVER, Alaska State Legislature, as the sponsor introduced HB 153, explaining it would expand the boundary of the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge. He said the refuge was established in 1975 by the legislature and is an area where the  earthquake caused the land to drop two feet, so what was once uplands became lowlands and wetlands. He said the bill simply incorporates about 1,360 acres that were donated and acquired between 1989 and 2013. Drawing attention to the maps in the committee packet, he said the lands with [red hatching] are the lands described and that would be added to the refuge by the bill. He noted that the legal description has been vetted four times and reviewed by the survey section at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He said the area is important habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, and a number of species of salmon and fish, as well as important winter range for moose. A number of different user groups use the area, including hunters, recreationists, and trappers, plus there is an advocacy group called Alaskans for Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge. He said there has been no opposition to the bill and there is support from outdoor organizations, the Board of Game, local elementary school kids, and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G). He further pointed out that the bill has a zero fiscal note and that a proposed committee substitute cleans up the legal descriptions that are in the original bill. 1:59:25 PM REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER moved to adopt the proposed committee substitute (CS), labeled 29-LS0653\H, Bullard, 3/28/15, as the working document. There being no objection, Version H was before the committee. 1:59:56 PM REPRESENTATIVE COLVER explained the proposed changes that Version H would make to the original bill. He drew attention to page 2, line 15, of the original bill which states "Section 28" and noted that Version H, lines 15-16, clean up the language for within Section 28 of Township 17 North, Range 1 East, Seward Meridian, Lots 1-2, by adding the north half of the southwest quarter to the string of legal descriptions. This is a description of some of the new lands added. He then drew attention to page 3 of Version H, lines 11, 15, and 18, which correctly state "U.S. Survey No. 9023". He explained that this survey number had transposed digits in the original bill and that this survey was done for the conveyance of the railroad from the federal government to the state. DAVID SCOTT, Staff, Representative Jim Colver, Alaska State Legislature, added that Legislative Legal and Research Services is a little wary of these kinds of bills and wants them double- checked multiple times by the various state departments. 2:02:26 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON inquired whether access to private land would be blocked by adding the new land to the refuge. REPRESENTATIVE COLVER replied he does not believe so. He said that as far as he knows there is no limitation to access and moving around within this state land. It is simply that it is designated as a game refuge. REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON asked whether any of the refuge land is off limits to motorized vehicles. REPRESENTATIVE COLVER deferred to ADF&G, but said he doesn't think so because otherwise the Alaska Outdoor Council would not have endorsed the bill and the council's letter of support references this. REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON specified he wants to be cautious that there is no blocking of access to private land. BRUCE DALE, Acting Director, Division of Wildlife Conservation, Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G), responded that to the department's knowledge there is no access blocked and that is not the intent of the department. There should be free access to any inholdings. 2:04:36 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked whether ADF&G or DNR has control of the access, rights-of-way, and winter trails. MR. DALE answered that snow machines are authorized from November 9 to March 31 as long as there is sufficient snow cover, and they can go anywhere they want. Four wheelers are authorized on designated trails only and there are numerous access points. There are some restrictions on outboard motor horsepower on some of the waterways. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON said he wants to make it clear that DNR does have restrictions for overland permits on any wetlands and generally it is winter compatible. 2:05:50 PM REPRESENTATIVE TARR observed from the map that the parcel that would be added on the east side of the refuge has privately owned parcels abutting it on the south side. Noting that land acquisition has been ongoing for a decade or more, she inquired whether there will be an effort going forward to try to bring these other private lands into the refuge. MR. DALE replied he does not know of any efforts to bring those particular lands into the refuge at this time. 2:07:07 PM CO-CHAIR TALERICO opened public testimony. ROD ARNO, Executive Director, Alaska Outdoor Council (AOC), testified in support of HB 153 with the correction on the boundaries. He noted that this area is on the edge of urban sprawl and for that reason AOC supports adding this additional protection of the areas that have been acquired. The addition on the west side of lands up to Cottonwood Creek is a very important access point for folks who hunt waterfowl and fish in the Hay Flats area. This is important critical habitat for protection, he said, and AOC supports that and supports the management of access on that land. 2:09:12 PM TOM ROTHE, Duck Hunter, testified in support of HB 153, explaining he is a duck hunter and frequent Hay Flats user. He urged the committee and the entire legislature to support this bill because it clarifies things that have been lingering in terms of management for a number of years. He is retired from ADF&G after 25 years and part of what he did for ADF&G's waterfowl program was to work with refuges and local landowners to acquire some of these parcels in partnership with many other entities. The purpose was largely to provide legal access to the refuge. For example, Cottonwood Creek was secured and is a legal access point. The property on the east side of the refuge is the primary access point and was private land prior to its acquisition. These parcels have been really important in securing easy ways for the public to get in and ADF&G has done a nice job of starting to improve those for users. A total of 2,400 acres has been acquired since 1990 and much of that is tremendous habitat for waterfowl, moose, and salmon. All of these acquisitions were done pretty much without the benefit of appropriated funds from the state. Partners and federal wetland grants brought over $1.4 million to the table for the benefit of Alaskans. He offered his appreciation for Co-Chair Talerico's bill for license fee increases [HB 137] because the fees for duck stamps are applied for these kinds of things - seed money to put together packages to get good habitat and public access. Mr. Rothe pointed out that the landowners were all willing and for the most part the properties are largely unbuildable because they are wetlands. So, when approached, those folks received good value for their properties as well as tax benefits in those cases where there were donations. If included in the refuge, these new acquisitions will not create any more restrictions on those lands than is currently available. The refuge is managed under a well-written management plan that looks at all the uses that have been negotiated over the years with the public through the public process. It sets up a regime to both protect habitat and allow public uses. The most important parts of this bill are that it fulfills promises made to those partners who stepped up and put in over a million dollars, plus it consolidates management authority in terms of enforcement, habitat enhancement projects, or other things. He drew attention to the letter of support from the Board of Game. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER thanked Mr. Rothe for his thorough and convincing testimony. 2:14:23 PM HERMAN GRIESE, Alaskans for Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge, testified in support of HB 153, saying his group has been involved in the refuge for over 10 years trying to clean up the trash and car bodies that were strewn throughout the access points on the refuge. His group worked with granting agencies to work with ADF&G to improve the access sites. For example, along the Glenn Highway at the Reflections Lake turnout his group is finishing a wildlife observation tower that will be turned over to the state. The goal of his group is to maintain opportunity for access by hunters, fishers, and trappers, as well as by children from local schools for educational opportunities. Another goal is to maintain the habitat value for the wildlife and fisheries resources on the refuge. He said his group enthusiastically supports this legislation. About 75 families and 25 donors are members of the group and have provided many dedicated hours and about $800,000 has been invested in the refuge to try to improve the looks, access, and opportunities. Mr. Griese pointed out that there are two particular sites. The primary access site on the west side is at Cottonwood Creek and is under a DNR Interagency Land Management Agreement (ILMA). Some of those investments and access are still on that Interagency Land Management Agreement (ILMA) land. He urged that these [ILMA] lands be added to the boundary, saying that letters have been sent to the governor in the past and, thanks to Mr. Rothe, people are now at the table discussing that. Another site is on the eastern side. It can be seen on the map that the boundary for the new change includes several channels that are now dry for the most part and it would be good if a line could be drawn across those channels and include them as well. They were considered part of an omission in the past because of wetland or water issues. But things are changing as it is a very dynamic area and decades down the road more changes will be looked at as well. 2:18:24 PM REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER, regarding Mr. Griese's concerns about improving the quality of access as part of this legislation by bringing in this additional land, asked whether conversations have been held with ADF&G or other state folks who would make those recommendations to the legislature. MR. GRIESE responded that his organization has been working very closely with ADF&G, which is the regulatory agency on the access for all these sites. He said there hasn't been any controversy except for some of the areas where there is increasing use of all-terrain vehicles on an existing and allowable trail. A proposal is currently being looked at to deal with repairing some of that damage, otherwise there is very close working cooperation with ADF&G on that. 2:19:46 PM REPRESENTATIVE TARR inquired whether the east side site mentioned by Mr. Griese is a site currently under consideration. MR. GRIESE answered that the area on the eastern end is not in the current legislation. It has been proposed in years past and his organization has written letters requesting that boundary change. He said it's difficult to advise individuals entering that eastern side as to where they are in the refuge because there are islands of land that are in the refuge and channels that are not. Now that it is all dry there is access in those areas and people wanting to recreate there would like to know whether or not they are in the refuge. 2:20:59 PM LARRY ENGLE testified in support of HB 153, saying he is a long- time user of the Palmer Hay Flats, including from before it was designated a refuge. He noted that many of the things he was going to bring up have already been discussed very clearly, particularly Mr. Rothe's and Mr. Griese's discussions, so he won't go into those details. He pointed out that many people are unaware of HB 153, but that Proposal 105 submitted to the Board of Game by Mr. Rothe did receive ample review by the public throughout the state. Virtually everything he has heard is positive for adding these fragmented lands to the refuge. School kids have written letters, as have organizations, individuals, and local advisory committees. He concluded by reading from remarks made by ADF&G to the Board of Game: "Adoption of this proposal would not result in significant cost to the department. Instead, it may result in cost savings by increasing management efficiency." 2:23:42 PM CO-CHAIR TALERICO closed public testimony after ascertaining that no one else wished to testify. He opened committee discussion on the bill. 2:24:20 PM REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER inquired as to what ADF&G thinks of the testimony suggesting there may be additional fragmented lands in both the eastern and western access areas that ought to be considered for inclusion in HB 153. MR. DALE replied that the division and the department have suggested legislation in the past to include those lands. When there is inconsistency in land ownership it makes it difficult for both staff and the public to know where they are at and which rules apply. Thus, including anything within the boundary of the refuge would be supported. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER asked why that wasn't included in this particular bill given that legislation has been submitted in the past. MR. DALE offered his belief that the proposal submitted to the Board of Game by Mr. Rothe did not include additional lands and the board voted on the proposal as written. BEN MULLIGAN, Legislative Liaison, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner, Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G), confirmed the department has considered legislation, but explained that Mr. Rothe's proposal was for the lands that ADF&G knew were firm and had been vetted for knowing that they are deed restricted. The Interagency Land Management Agreement (ILMA) lands are still being discussed and are now DNR general state lands, but ADF&G hasn't reached a point to be comfortable enough to say yes for certain and go to the sponsor, but it is definitely a conversation that will be had. 2:26:43 PM REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER inquired whether ADF&G is comfortable with those additional lands at this time. MR. MULLIGAN replied not enough to suggest putting them in now. The department needs to have an internal conversation and then talk with the sponsor. REPRESENTATIVE HAWKER inquired as to what happened with the previous legislation that had proposed to do just that. MR. MULLIGAN responded that no legislation had actually been introduced, Mr. Dale was referencing ADF&G's own internal ideas and not anything official into the legislature. 2:27:55 PM CO-CHAIR TALERICO stated his intention to move the bill, noting that the remarks have been very positive. 2:29:39 PM REPRESENTATIVE HERRON moved to report Version H, the proposed committee substitute labeled 29-LS0653\H, Bullard, 3/28/15, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying [zero] fiscal note. There being no objection, CSHB 153(RES) was reported from the House Resources Standing Committee.