Just ‘tweaks’ for new management plan at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

(Photo courtesy of the National Park Service).

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is updating its marine management plan and environmental assessment for the first time since 1984. The document guides decision-making for park management and establishes rules for visitors.

Superintendent Philip Hooge said a lot of work went into the design, but the public shouldn’t expect major changes at the park. He called the changes “tweaks”.

“I think Glacier Bay is one of those amazing parks where we found the right tool,” he said. “We have coped with an increase of 6% (visitors). But at the same time you can have the same experience as in the 90s.”

Management at Glacier Bay is unique as visitors primarily experience the park from the water and the majority of visitors stay on cruise ships. He says the park’s contracting system with the cruise industry results in some of the strictest environmental standards in the world – so the existing quota system will not change.

But the park is proposing changes for private vessels. This is because visitor behavior and environmental conditions have changed since 1984.

“We had problems with permits for private ships,” said Hooge.

He said it was easier for locals to get permits and some people had found ways to trick the current system.

“So we wanted to try to make these a little fairer, you know — still provide recreational opportunities for local people, but provide some level of equal opportunity for people who have never been to the park.”

The number of permit days will remain the same, but the permit season will be extended by two months.

Travis Mingo works for Alaskan Dream Cruises and Allen Marine. He checked in at a public hearing in Juneau this week to see if his company would be affected.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “That’s good. It doesn’t mean we have to change the way we do business.”

Steve Box is a commercial halibut fisherman who owns one of the few remaining licenses in the park. He stopped by to see how it could change his livelihood.

“The more traffic, the more damaging it is to the bay as a whole. So I’m just curious what her plan was,” he said.

The document is long, but park officials say Chapters 2 and 3 should give the casual reader enough information to understand the changes. The public comment period runs until December 30th.

Also, mega yacht owners should note that anything longer than 79 feet is no longer counted as a private vessel. They will be in the same class as cruise ships.

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