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Backcountry Management Planning in Alaska's National Parks

Alaska Region
Joni Piercy
Three of Alaska’s National Parks, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Glacier Bay National Park, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, are in the process of preparing Backcountry Management Plans. Backcountry is that undeveloped national park and/or preserve land that does not have major facilities or roads.

These northern landscapes are predominantly wild lands possessing a very high degree of ecological integrity. All three parks were either established or expanded by the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). With passage of ANILCA, Congress designated millions of acres of wilderness within the parks and established special provisions for management in recognition of the unique situations and traditional lifeways in Alaska. The plans will address how to protect these unparalleled expanses and their exceptional degree of naturalness and wildness, as well as to decide where and how to provide for access and use of these nationally significant areas. Together these parks represent 26% of the national park lands in the United States and nearly 20% of all lands Congressionally designated as Wilderness under the National Wilderness Preservation System.

These three plans are being developed in a coordinated manner with staged starts over the next five to seven years. Draft backcountry management plans and associated environmental impact statements (plans/EISs) will be published for each park approximately 6 months apart. There are many benefits to this approach. It will be easier for the public and stakeholders to be involved in and respond to the planning efforts; it will allow for more consistent interpretations of policy and law related to the backcountry; and it will better reflect the range of options for visitor use and backcountry protection from a statewide perspective not just within each park unit.

Regional scoping workshops were held to kick off the planning process for all three parks in November 2003. These workshops were held in key Alaska communities – Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau - as well as Seattle, Washington. Presentations and discussions at these workshops focused on planning at all three parks, rather than on one specific park.

One of several maps that were presented to the public to facilitate discussion during these meetings, this map of Gates of the Arctic NPP depicts the park and neighboring land managers as well as existing recreational facilities. To set the planning effort in its regional context, a map of existing recreational opportunities in Alaska and the Yukon Territory was developed. Maps of existing uses were also presented for the other two parks.

GIS will be used for analysis as well as presentation graphics for the draft and final plans and EISs. It will be a critical tool in developing plan alternatives. In total, it is estimated that over 60 GIS maps will be developed in the backcountry management planning process.
April 08, 2004