Isolated Paradise:
An Administrative History of the Katmai and Aniakchak National Park Units
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Chapter 12:
Other Resource Management Issues

Scientists in a broad variety of disciplines have been carrying on research at Katmai for decades. In a broad sense, the first researchers were the various nineteenth century travelers who made casual notes on the geological and biological composition of the surrounding countryside. In recent years, those who have used Katmai for their studies have included university students and faculty, state and federal agency personnel, geological and oil industry representatives, and scientists under the sponsorship of private nonprofit organizations. All who have used Katmai for their research have made important contributions; equally important, the NPS has incorporated (or attempted to incorporate) the results of that research to better manage the unit. This chapter will describe only the most extensive Katmai projects, or those which have required significant involvement by NPS staff. The management ramifications which followed those projects have also been described.

Early Research Efforts

Although a number of travelers who passed through the Katmai country in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries described the area in general terms, the first scientists to study areas within the present-day park did so as part of governmental expeditions intent on describing the economic potential of area minerals (see Chapter 11). Both the Coast Survey and the Smithsonian Institution investigated reports of petroleum in the area as early as the 1860s, and in 1895 George F. Becker and William Healey Dall, representing the U.S. Geological Survey, searched for gold and coal. In 1904, George C. Martin, T. W. Stanton, and R. W. Stone searched the Katmai coastline for its coal and petroleum possibilities. [1]

The 1912 eruption increased scientific interest in the area. Geologist George Martin, who rushed to the area that summer, did not write a scientific article about his trip; neither did botanist Robert Griggs, who ventured into the area in 1915. The two expeditions were sponsored by the National Geographic Society. Both leaders limited their travel to the Shelikof Strait coastline; both tried but failed to reach the center of the recent volcanic activity. [2]

In 1916, however, Griggs's discovery of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes brought forth the first purely scientific writings to emanate from observations made at Katmai. No academic colleagues accompanied Griggs on his 1916 trip. The following year, however, he organized an expedition which included a topographer, a zoologist, a chemist, and two assistant botanists. The topographer, Charles F. Maynard, created an excellent contour map of the newly-discovered area; the remaining expedition members contributed articles and monographs to the scientific literature. Additional parties, each sponsored by the National Geographic Society, returned to Katmai in 1918 and 1919, and the scientists among them made additional contributions to geology, volcanology, biology, and other subjects. [3]

Once the flurry of interest generated by the various National Geographic Society expeditions had died down, the new monument was largely ignored by both agency managers and scientists for the next twenty years. As noted in Chapter 3, the NPS became increasingly interested in Katmai during the late 1930s, but only dispatched a single employee to the area for a brief trip. NPS officials were particularly interested in the level of volcanic activity in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. [4] Their interest, in large part, was politically based; if the dramatic fumarolic activity seen during the NGS expeditions had died away, the monument would have lost one of the major reasons for its existence. (Development advocates felt that Katmai, created to be a second Yellowstone, was worthless if it had no fumaroles; NPS officials countered that the devastated volcanic landscape and the area's spectacular wildlife demanded the area's continued management as a national monument.)

In 1939, in answer to an inquiry about the monument's wildlife, NPS officials could muster up only a one-paragraph summary. Recognizing its collective ignorance, the agency dispatched two men, biologist Victor Cahalane and Mount McKinley Superintendent Frank Been, to Katmai the following summer. [5] Their purpose was to make a general reconnaissance and to make a rough inventory the area's biological diversity. Cahalane gained enough information that summer that he wrote an article on the monument's bird species; in July 1944 it was published in the Auk, the quarterly journal of the American Ornithological Union. [6]

The Katmai Project

In 1950, Northern Consolidated Airlines established its various Katmai fishing camps, the NPS detailed its first summer ranger, and the agency's Region Four office initiated the Alaska Recreation Survey. The ARS, which brought George Collins and other NPS staff to the monument, was designed to stimulate and plan Katmai visitation.

Both Collins and the resident rangers quickly learned that monument land-use planning required a level of biological knowledge far greater than what had been ascertained thus far. In 1951, a report noted that

the principal current problem [at Katmai] is to make a reasonably accurate inventory of the biological resources.... Wolves appear to be more numerous in this area than in all other parks combined, which makes a wolf-moose-caribou study imperative.... A biologist should spend at least 3 or 4 months annually in Katmai National Monument for the next 3 or 4 years to determine the wildlife protection and management needs. [7]

The summer rangers were urged to accumulate as much wildlife observational data as possible consistent with their other duties. Their lack of access to areas outside of Brooks Camp, however, severely limited their scope of work.

In order to grapple with these and other research gaps, and to show monument detractors that the monument's resources were of national significance, the agency's Washington office designed the Katmai Project, a broad-scale scientific study effort. Planning for the project took place in late 1952. The NPS knew the subject areas in which research was needed. Lacking funds, however, they contacted a number of agencies and universities in hopes that a cooperative arrangement could be worked out. [8] In early 1953, the NPS formally proposed the project to the Office of Naval Research. (The agency noted that the information was needed "both in the interest of science and to obtain information of military importance.") The ONR approved the proposal shortly thereafter, and by June a team of seventeen scientists was on its way to Katmai. [9]

Many agencies and universities contributed to the project. Scientists involved hailed from Johns Hopkins University, the University of California Berkeley, University of Connecticut, University of Oregon, University of Wisconsin, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Public Health Service, the National Park Service, and the Army's Office of the Quartermaster General. In addition, the Army, Navy, and Air Force supplied equipment and logistical support. [10]

Geology was the largest single subject area scrutinized by the scientific team during the Katmai Project. Ten of the seventeen team members were geologists, volcanologists, or geomorphologists. Remaining members consisted of a geographer, a biologist, a mammalogist and parasitologist, an entomologist, and three archeologists. Robert S. Luntey, a recreation planner from NPS's Region Four office, served as project leader; he set up an office in the Naknek Air Force auxiliary base at King Salmon and oversaw operations from there. [11]

The team members arrived in the monument on June 19, and by July 4 they had set up four field camps: near the head of Knife Creek, near the mouth of the Savonoski River, in the abandoned clam cannery on Kukak Bay, and two miles west of Brooks Camp. Additional small spike camps were made as the season progressed. Most members were gone from Katmai by mid-September. Luntey, however, stayed on until October 7. [12]

The project, as originally outlined, called for an investigations to take place in six subject areas. The U.S. Geological Society participated so avidly, however, that ten papers--four of them dealing with geology, geomorphology, and volcanism--emerged from the season's work. [13]

All were capable efforts. One of the most surprising conclusions that emerged from the season's research was that C. N. Fenner's thirty-year-old theory on how the eruption had taken place was in error. Fenner had postulated that during the eruption the active rhyolite magma had dissolved the old andesite core of Mount Katmai. Fenner's theory was considered controversial even during the 1920s, but not until the 1950s were research funds available to test it. [14] Dr. Garniss H. Curtis of the University of California, the geologist chosen to examine Fenner's ideas in the field, emerged from the 1953 field season with sufficient evidence to cast doubt on Fenner's conclusions. He was anxious to return to the field and elaborate on an alternative hypothesis. [15]

Two other papers which incited popular interest dealt with current volcanic activity in the monument. During 1953 both Mount Spurr and Mount Trident had erupted. Mount Spurr, located north of Katmai, blanketed Anchorage with a quarter inch of ash and alarmed citizens throughout the territory. Mount Trident, located in the monument, erupted a half mile of lava; it then steamed for the next six months. Six other volcanoes in the monument also steamed with varying degrees of intensity during the summer of 1953. The scientific papers were valuable to both the general public and NPS officials in that they described and analyzed each volcanic event and placed the recent volcanic activity within a historical context. [16]

Once the 1953 field season was complete, the NPS began preparing for another year of field work. The Office of Naval Research grant had lapsed, but the NPS hoped that the momentum gained from the first year's work would induce additional sponsorship funds. As late as March 1954, NPS Director Conrad Wirth was still unsure as to how a second year of work would be funded. ONR and other governmental agencies, however, finally released the funds which allowed the summer's research to take place. [17]

The summer of 1954 witnessed a continuation of the previous summer's studies of volcanic and seismic forces, plant and animal ecology, archeology, and ethnology. Two additional studies began that summer; one dealt with an investigation of the monument's sedimentary rocks, the other a survey of Katmai's fresh water fishing resources. Each of the governmental agencies which had been active the previous year continued their involvement; in addition, the Department of Agriculture and the Fish and Wildlife Service joined in. Participating universities included the University of California and the University of Alaska. [18]

Two particularly notable studies emerged from the 1954 investigations. Dr. Curtis of the University of California, who had emerged from the 1953 season convinced that C. N. Fenner's theory relating to the 1912 eruption was in error, returned to the field with graduate student Jack Sheehan. The two measured the thickness of the ashfall around Mount Katmai and discovered it to be thickest around Novarupta, a volcanic plug six miles to the west. Additional evidence convinced Curtis that a column of molten andesite lying in the conduit beneath Katmai suddenly found access through a newly created fissure at Novarupta. His startling conclusion was that Novarupta, not Mount Katmai, was the location of the primary 1912 eruption. [19]

A less spectacular study was performed by Victor Cahalane, who finished up his third year of Katmai field work in September 1954. Cahalane, who was assisted in his final season by George B. Schaller, a University of Alaska graduate student, inventoried and described a wide variety of the monument's birds, mammals, and vegetation. He made additional notes on the monument's ecological zones, the rate of vegetation regrowth in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, and similar topics. Cahalane's study, which was not published until 1959, was the only NPS-sponsored study to emerge from the Katmai Project. [20]

With the exception of Bureau of Commercial Fisheries studies, little research took place at the monument for almost a decade following the Katmai Project. [21] In 1962, however, research began anew when the University of Alaska's Geophysical and Marine Institute began investigating earthquake activity in the monument. That work, which also included students from Dartmouth University, Syracuse University, and Columbia University, continued for the next four years. [22]

Astronauts in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

In 1965, the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes became the site of an entirely different research effort. Ten astronauts from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), in Houston, flew into King Salmon Air Force Base on June 27 and spent the next week in the monument. The astronauts--Edwin E. ("Buzz") Aldrin, William Anders, Charles Bassett, Alan Bean, Eugene Cernan, Roger Chaffee, Walter Cunningham, Russell Schweickart, David Scott, and Clifton Williams--were accompanied by geologists from the U.S. Geological Survey's Division of Astrogeology, located in Flagstaff, Arizona. [23]

The astronauts had all been chosen as candidates for future moon missions. As such, they were involved in a long-term training regimen which included trips to the Hawaii's geological landscape, Iceland's lava flows, the jungles of Panama, and the deserts of Nevada. They had come to Katmai because NASA scientists had concluded that the fine-ground red pumice stone that covered the floor of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes was similar in texture to that which might be found on the moon. In addition, the relatively recent date in which the volcanic landscape had been created made it similar to that of the lunar surface. [24]

The party, which numbered 28 in all, spent their evenings at Brooks Camp, but by day they flew by helicopter into the volcanic area, where the geologists led the astronauts on hikes and explained the surrounding landscape features to them. [25]

The following year MSC sent an additional party of astronauts to train in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. A total of 24 spent the week of August 22 to August 26 in the monument; the party included astronauts John Bull, Edward Gibson, Edward Givens, Bruce McCandless, Edgar Mitchell, Stewart Roosa, Harrison Schmitt, and Paul Weitz. They were again accompanied by USGS geologists. Their activities were much the same as those of the 1965 group. [26]

The Geophysical Institute's Work at Baked Mountain

The same year in which NASA first ventured out to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, scientists from the University of Alaska prepared to do the same. The university, it will be recalled, had begun earthquake research at the monument in 1962, and during the winter of 1964-65 its Geophysical Institute prepared to increase its level of research at the monument. Dr. Robert Forbes, a member of the Institute staff, received a National Science Foundation grant for research on the petrology and geochemistry of Alaskan volcanic rocks. As part of that grant, Forbes hoped to study the lavas of Mount Trident, which had erupted just twelve years before. His colleague, Dr. Eduard Berg, had received an NSF grant on seismic and volcanic investigations in the monument. The two planned to continue the Institute's ongoing earthquake investigations.

The Institute contacted the NPS about the project, and in February 1965 Director Hartzog approved its plans. The stepped-up program would require the attention of up to four scientists at a time. To house them, the Institute planned to build a "small temporary ... research station near [Mount] Trident." It also planned to install seismographs near Brooks Lake and elsewhere in the monument. [27] By April, however, the Institute's plans had changed. It requested permission from the NPS to build a field base camp just south of Baked Mountain, several miles west of its originally selected site. That camp was to include an 8' x 20' prefabricated plywood residence and workroom, and a 7' x 10' generator hut. The Institute also planned to install three seismometers, one each in the Lethe, Angle, and Ikagluik creek drainages. [28] That summer, it installed its base camp in the area it had indicated. It installed only two seismometers, however. One was located just north of Baked Mountain, the other just south of the confluence of the Savonoski and Grosvenor rivers. [29]

The Geophysical Institute obtained a five-year permit from the NPS in April 1965, and research began at soon as the buildings and equipment could be installed. For the next few years a one- or two-person crew flew by helicopter out to the Baked Mountain station in June. The station, at least in its first years of operation, remained active throughout the summer. [30] During the mid-1970s, the site was used as the base camp for a University of Alaska researcher who was charting the historical changes in the level of the lake in the Katmai caldera and recent changes in the Knife Creek glacier. After 1977, however, the site was abandoned and the institute let its special use permit lapse. The site may also have been used as a base camp by the University of California Berkeley and the USGS, who teamed up on a petrology and geochemical study of the 1912 ash flow. They did not, however, occupy the cabin to the exclusion of recreational visitors. The project ran from 1976 to 1982. [31]

The NPS exerted little management authority over the Institute's operations in the monument. The agency commenced a wilderness study in the late 1960s, and as part of that study created a nine-acre enclave surrounding the Baked Mountain cabin. Later, however, it eliminated the enclave, because it worried that a designated non-wilderness zone would invite further developments that would be incompatible with the overall wilderness setting. [32] The only problem the agency had with the facility dealt with its unkempt appearance. A 1969 NPS planning study noted that the site needed policing, and recommended that the Service persuade the University to "remove debris and camouflage the site and structures to blend more harmoniously into the landscape." [33]

Few if any visitors hiked in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes prior to the completion of the Valley Road. Since then, however, the number of hikers has slowly increased. One of the most popular Valley hikes is an unmarked (though easily visible) route from Three Forks Overlook to Novarupta, and one reason for its popularity has been the shelter afforded at the Baked Mountain cabin. [34]

When the University abandoned the cabin it left much of its equipment at the site. In 1984, the NPS inventoried the accumulated refuse. It made plans to haul it out, but did not do so. During the summer of 1990, personnel from the Novarupta drilling project (see below) rehabilitated the site. They installed new roofs on three buildings and tore down a partially collapsed metal building; dug a new outhouse pit, then moved and re-anchored the existing outhouse; did some interior work in the main cabin; and removed fourteen helicopter loads of accumulated debris. [35]

Alaska Lands Act Biological Studies

Once Victor Cahalane completed his work in connection with the 1953-54 Katmai Project, little NPS-sponsored research pertaining to the monument's biological resources was done for the almost twenty years. Some work, however, was accomplished. Fred Dean, of the University of Alaska, conducted bear research from 1967 through 1969. Then, from 1969 to 1971, NPS biologist Richard Prasil conducted several sea mammal surveys along the Katmai coast. [36] And throughout the period, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries continued to gather data on the monument fishery.

The passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, in December 1971, was indirectly responsible for a boost in research at the monument. As noted in Chapter 5, it set into motion a series of planning studies. One of the most detailed of those studies was a Department of the Interior report which recommended that Katmai National Monument become a 4,453,000-acre national park.

In order to justify the expansion of the monument's boundaries, the agency undertook a massive series of studies evaluating the resources of proposed park areas. In the fifty-odd years in Alaska prior to ANCSA, the NPS had produced fewer than 50 reports on Alaska. Between 1972 and 1978, however, the agency or its contractors completed more than 175 reports. [37] The large majority of the newly-created reports dealt with proposed areas that were not adjacent to existing NPS units. The Katmai area, however, was better known than many other areas, and offered fewer resource conflicts. In comparison with other proposed park areas, therefore, relatively little research was performed in the Katmai area during the period leading up to the Alaska Lands Act.

What was done, however, was significant. The first such study was undertaken by Dr. John Dennis, an NPS biologist from the Alaska State Office in Anchorage. Dennis began with a photographic survey of vegetation zones, then spent the next two years identifying plants and laying out study plots. Those plots were in the tundra area west of the monument as well as in the western portion of the monument itself. [38] Dennis was transferred away from Alaska midway through his study and was thus unable to complete it. Some of the work he began, however, was completed by a biological study team; during the 1976 field season, it analyzed the ecosystems of the lowland tundra vegetation zone located in the Big Creek and King Salmon River drainages. [39] Dennis felt strongly that the expanded park should include a significant portion of the western tundra, and largely because of his efforts a large portion of it was included in the Department of the Interior recommendations in 1973 and 1974. As noted in Chapter 5, however, most of the area he recommended was eliminated in 1977 due to opposition from local residents. [40]

Park planners knew that the question of subsistence would have to be addressed in any Alaska lands legislation that would be written. Because planners knew little about the subsistence patterns of Katmai-area residents, they contracted with Steven Behnke, who visited six local communities in early 1977 and inquired into the residents' use of local plants and animals. His report, issued in October 1978, showed that residents of seven local communities--Levelock, Igiugig, Kakhonak, Naknek, South Naknek, King Salmon, and Egegik--utilized the area surrounding the existing monument for their subsistence needs. Subsistence uses by one or more of the seven communities took place adjacent to the monument's western and southwestern boundaries; north of the existing boundaries was a significant area not utilized by residents of any of the local villages. Residents used the area for collecting firewood, picking berries, fishing, trapping, and for hunting small and large game. [41]

Some excellent research also took place on the area's eagle population. Will Troyer, another Anchorage-based NPS biologist, commenced his studies in 1974. Using a low-flying float plane, Troyer flew over the monument and the area included within the proposed park in search of active eagle nests. He repeated his survey almost every year until 1981. [42]

Other governmental entities stepped up their research efforts during the period, even though the resulting research had little bearing on upcoming legislation. The University of Alaska Geophysical Institute, for instance, sponsored three projects. In 1977, it sponsored the construction of two transponder sites in the Cape Douglas area in order to support outer continental shelf studies. (The Lower Cook Inlet Oil Lease Sale, as noted in Chapter 11, had been proposed just a year earlier.) In addition, the Institute and the USGS's National Center for Earthquake Research operated a short period seismic station in order to identify earthquake clusters and volcanic centers within the monument. The OCS work continued until 1978; the earthquake and volcano studies lasted two years longer. [43]

Several other government agencies undertook Katmai-based research projects during the 1970s. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, as well as the National Park Service, made several surveys of the monument's moose population. [44] The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was also active during the decade. It performed hydrographic and mapping surveys along the Shelikof Strait coastline during the early 1970s, and studied the Lower Cook Inlet's surface currents late in the decade. In conjunction with the latter project, the agency planned to establish a field camp in the monument, probably in the Cape Douglas area. [45]

Resource Management Since 1980

Before the 1970s, little thought had gone into planning the type of research that should take place at Katmai. Because it was a national monument, its research values were not as highly recognized as those at the national parks. As a result, the NPS had sponsored relatively few projects. After the passage of the Alaska Lands Act and the creation of Katmai National Park and Preserve, however, its research values were more highly emphasized.

Those values had begun during the 1970s. In 1975, a biologist named Ralph Root had been assigned as the keyman for the Katmai and Aniakchak proposal areas, and in June 1976 he created a prioritized list of resource study needs. [46] Soon after the passage of ANILCA, park staff continued Root's idea when they assembled the first Katmai Resources Management Plan. (The idea of an RMP had been broached as early as 1970, but had been ignored during the hectic period leading up to the Alaska Lands Act.) The draft RMP was completed in April 1982. Among its other attributes, it described sixteen proposed natural resource projects and the recommended priority for each. [47]

In September 1982, Katherine Jope began work as Katmai's first Resource Management Specialist. One of her first accomplishments was the preparation of a wildlife monitoring plan. Based on that plan, which was an outgrowth of Will Troyer's research, she devoted time during each of the next five years toward monitoring the park's bear and eagle populations. Jope also created species checklists for the park's plants, birds, and fish, and added significantly to the park herbarium. [48]

Jope also updated the park's resource management plan. The RMP was first revised in April 1983. Later revisions were submitted to the regional director in January 1985 and April 1987. (The regional director, however, did not sign either document.) The RMPs, which grew larger and more complex with each passing revision, reflected the park's changing management needs and research accomplishments. [49]

Research in recent years has covered a broad array of subject areas. Several projects, for instance, have investigated the park's air and water resources. The Arctic Environmental Information and Data Center, for instance, had completed a study of Naknek Lake's aquatic system back in 1978, and in 1985 and 1986 the University of California staff sponsored an acid rain monitoring project. In 1990, the NPS and the University of Alaska initiated a two-year water quality baseline study, and an air quality particulate sampling study soon followed. [50]

Most recent biological research has involved the monitoring of wildlife populations. Most research has involved the monitoring of the most visible animal species: moose, caribou, seals and sea lions, and eagles, swans, and other bird life. [51] Other research efforts, however, have taken place. In 1986 both a lichen and spruce beetle survey were completed. In the early 1990s four vegetation studies were undertaken, and in 1992 a count was made of the park's snowshoe hare population. Large animal monitoring was undertaken by the state Department of Fish and Game. A majority of the other biological work, however, was completed or sponsored by the NPS. [52]

Geological research has also taken place in recent years. The most well-publicized research effort has been the Novarupta drilling project, discussed below. In addition, the University's Geophysical Institute established a new short-period seismic station at Cape Douglas in August 1981. That station was taken over by the newly-formed Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) in 1988. Still operating, it is the only AVO-operated seismic station in the park. [53] In addition, the USGS conducted field work in the park--specifically in lands within the Mount Katmai and Iliamna topographic quadrangles--from 1984 through 1986 as part of the Alaska Mineral Resource Assessment Program (AMRAP). Finally, the USGS has recently established its own seismic network. It was established in 1987 with twelve seismic stations. The number of stations has changed each year since then. In 1993, sixteen stations were being used to collect project data. [54]

A newly revised resource management plan was due to be issued in 1989. But because of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the resource management planning process was delayed. In the spring of 1991, however, work finally began on planning a revision to the 1987 plan, and by May 1992 a draft RMP had been submitted to the regional director. It was then made available for public comment. The final RMP was signed by Superintendent Bill Pierce and Regional Director John M. Morehead in August 1994.

Novarupta Drilling Project

In recent years, scientists and NPS officials have carried on many discussions over a proposed Katmai research project. That project involves the drilling of three deep holes into the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, two of them located near Novarupta Volcano. [55] The goal of the volcanological project was to test a number of theories concerning magma cooling and mineralization in a volcanic area. Scientists chose Novarupta because their research objectives required a volcanic site of recent eruptive activity with a relatively simple geologic structure, and Novarupta is probably the only known location where a vent of a large explosive eruption is preserved without the collapse of its structure. Scientists, by and large, were enthusiastic about the project. NPS officials, however, were more guarded, and they openly worried about the effect that drilling would have on Katmai's expansive wilderness acreage. The project, they knew, would demand helicopter-supported base camps in the fragile Ukak River valley ecosystem; the withdrawal of three million gallons of water from a nearby lake; and the construction of a pipeline, several miles long and maintained by off-road vehicles, to transport the withdrawn water. [56]

The NPS first heard about the project in September 1985, when Dr. John C. Eichelber-ger, a geochemist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, briefed agency officials in Anchorage. Their initial conference was followed by a series of meetings in mid-October. For the next two years the NPS was aware of little project activity; the scientific consortium, during that period, busied themselves with the development of a study plan. [57]

By 1987, those who advocated deep drilling as a geological research method had formed an organization called Deep Observation and Sampling of the Earth's Continental Crust (DOSECC), which was supported in part by the National Science Foundation. Several meetings were held that year between DOSECC, USGS, and NPS representatives. At a December 15 meeting, NPS Regional Director Boyd Evison noted that he was, in general, supportive of legitimate research. He indicated that Katmai's enabling legislation allowed some research opportunities. He further stated that the NPS might support the project if certain safeguards could be assured. He cautioned, however, that because most of Katmai was in the National Wilderness Preservation System, Congressional action would probably be necessary before the project could proceed. [58]

The following year, the group sponsoring Katmai drilling became known as the Interagency Coordinating Group (ICG) of the U.S. Continental Scientific Drilling Program. The ICG, an ad hoc governmental group, included the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy (the main funding agency), and USGS. Non-governmental participants included Sandia National Laboratories, Livermore National Laboratory, Stanford University, and the Universities of Alaska and New Mexico. The NPS, during this period, remained willing to consider the project. It wondered, however, whether there were locations outside the National Park System where drilling might be conducted without the detrimental environmental impact. The agency, therefore, requested the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to seek alternative sites for the ICG research project. [59]

Without waiting for word from NAS personnel, project scientists began field investigations. A multi-agency team of geologists and geophysicists, using helicopters for access, prowled around the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes during the summer of 1989. They made precise gravity and magnetic measurements at 150 points in the vicinity of Novarupta in an attempt to pinpoint the size, shape, and location of the eruptive vent. They used helicopters for access and stayed in a temporary camp. They were sufficiently intrigued with what they found that they prepared for a second summer of geological exploration. Recognizing that they might be making a long-term commitment to research in the area, they collaborated with the NPS on a long-overdue refurbishment of the 25-year-old Baked Mountain cabin complex. Both the cabin reconstruction and a second year of research activity took place during the summer of 1990. As a result of the two years' research, a project workshop was held in December 1990, and the papers presented there were published the following summer. [60]

Meanwhile, plans for the drilling operation moved forward. During the fall of 1989, Sandia personnel began preparing an draft outline of an Operations Plan for the proposed drill holes. [61] Project personnel announced that the plan would be completed in early 1990. They knew, however, that after the plan was approved, several bureaucratic obstacles had to be overcome before drilling could proceed. First, the NAS had to submit a positive report on Novarupta's "uniqueness" as a research site. Second, the NPS had to initiate National Environmental Policy Act compliance requirements by preparing a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. Finally, the EIS had to be prepared and approved. By January, NPS personnel had been informed that the NAS was about to issue its report. Sandia officials were hopeful that the EIS could be begun by July 1990, that the NPS could issue its final decision in late 1991 or early 1992, and that drilling could begin during the 1992 field season. [62]

The National Academy of Sciences, in a 1990 report, verified that the site was uniquely suited to scientific drilling, but Sandia's Plan of Operations was not completed until the following year. The NPS, in 1991, agreed to coordinate the issuance of the environmental impact statement. That December, it selected Dames and Moore to write the EIS. Meanwhile, personnel from the USGS and Sandia Lab took part in a third consecutive year of Katmai field studies. [63]

By April 1992, interest in the project had grown in the scientific community, and the consortium which backed the project now numbered 18 universities and government agencies. (Opposition to the project was sporadic and muted.) Three of the sponsoring agencies--The USGS, Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation--agreed to provide the majority of the funding for the two-year drilling project. Public meetings were held that month in both Anchorage and King Salmon. The NPS was getting ready to prepare its EIS, and sought public scoping comments before proceeding further. Agency officials estimated that document preparation would take about a year; given NPS approval, researchers hoped to begin drilling three holes, from 700 up to 4,000 feet deep, in 1994. [64]

During the summer of 1992, work finally got underway on the writing of the environmental impact statement. In December, NPS officials were confident that it would be available for public review the following spring. [65] A preliminary draft of the EIS was completed that month. Reaction in Washington, however, was so strong that Sandia National Laboratories was asked to write a revised plan of operations. In mid-1993, plans called for the issuance of the draft EIS later that year, a final EIS in 1994, and for drilling to begin in 1995. But in late 1993, just before the draft EIS was released to the public, personnel in the Interior Secretary's office--including Alaska representative Deborah Williams; George Frampton, the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks; and Tom Collier, Secretary Bruce Babbitt's Chief of Staff--helped convince the ICG to withdraw the entire proposal. The group officially abandoned the project in the spring of 1994. [66]

Exxon Valdez Resource Assessment Work

Soon after the Exxon Valdez began spilling its oily contents into the waters of Prince William Sound, NPS officials became aware that the spill would probably escape the sound and impact lands under their jurisdiction. They were cognizant that the marine environment included in the various park units was teeming with life, and that much of that life was becoming endangered by the advancing oil. They also knew that only the barest amount of data had been collected on the biological diversity of the parks' coastal areas; as a result, they had little way of knowing what might be lost. [67]

As noted in chapters 6 and 10, the agency's response to overcoming the lack of shoreline data was the creation of a series of intelligence gathering teams. These teams were used at Kenai Fjords, Lake Clark and Aniakchak as well as Katmai, and were composed of both natural and cultural resource specialists along with supporting personnel.

At first, few NPS officials felt that the Katmai shoreline was in danger from the spilled Exxon Valdez oil. It was not until mid-April that most in the agency recognized that oil would be lapping up against Katmai's shores by the end of the month; only then did they dispatch assessment personnel to the area. Three teams, each operating from a fishing vessel but with helicopter support, were used along the Katmai coast. Team 1 investigated the stretch of coastline from McNeil River to Cape Douglas, Team 2 from Kiukpalik Island to Kukak Bay, and Team 3 from Kinak Bay to Kashvik Bay. The three teams left Homer between April 15 and April 18, and they had all returned by April 29. And it was just in time, too; the first major oil slick reached the Katmai coast on April 26. [68]

Katmai was hit badly by the oncoming oil slick. On May 2, Katmai Superintendent Ray Bane flew down the coastline and, at Hallo Bay, he counted six dead birds per 100 feet of beach. The park's bear population was also injured because they fed on the washed-up bird carcasses. [69]

As noted in Chapter 6, the NPS and VECO did what they could, during the 1989 cleanup operations, to minimize their impact on park bears and other coastal wildlife. They were largely successful, although one aggressive bear was killed at Kukak Bay by a VECO-employed Resource Protection Officer. [70]

After oil cleanup took place, another resource crew visited the various Katmai beaches in order to reassess the condition of the resources. These three- to four-person NPS crews, most of whom hailed from the Lower 48, were on the job in May and worked all summer long. In addition, the park brought in bio-technicians, funded primarily by Exxon and headed by retired NPS biologist Will Troyer. These crews, who reported for duty on June 19, gathered information to support the damage assessment process under the terms of the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act. Later, they did resource monitoring and beach assessment work. [71]

The pre- and post-oiling assessment crews gathered a large amount of data about the biological diversity of the Katmai coast. Some crew members made notes about the vegetation and wildlife encountered during their beach visits, and a large percentage of the coastline was photographed for the first time. But the data, beneficial though it may have been, was not scientifically valid. Some crew members did not have the training to make accurate observations; others did not have the time. Many felt that their primary duty was to describe the degree of oiling which had taken place; biological descriptions were secondary. NPS legal advisors, who mulled over the evidence for a tort investigation against Exxon, determined that the data were not sufficiently rigorous to be able to prove how much ecological destruction had taken place. [72]

Troyer noted, in his season-ending report, that more than 300 miles of the Katmai coastline had received some oil impact and that many miles, despite the cleanup efforts, were still heavily oiled. In accordance with the Winter Interagency Monitoring Program, several sites along the coast were scheduled to be monitored that winter. No monitoring, however, took place. [73]

The events of 1990, in some ways, paralleled those of the previous year. In late March an interdisciplinary group, consisting of U.S. Coast Guard, Exxon, and NPS representatives, assessed the condition of the Katmai coast. These assessments, funneled through a Technical Advisory Group process, laid out what the location and scope of the summer's cleanup work. At the insistence of Regional Director Boyd Evison, the NPS modified many of the TAG recommendations due to the agency's stricter levels of environmental sensitivity. Evison also insisted that Resource Protection Officers be used again. [74]

After the summer cleanup crews had left, NPS representatives returned to the Katmai beaches and made additional notes on the persistence of oil. The following May, the interdisciplinary crew repeated its assessment work. Because relatively few areas were thought to be in need of additional cleanup, however, little spring assessment work was done. Some of the assessment teams deployed in 1990 and 1991 made biological notes at the sites they visited. Their observations, however, were just as informal as those of 1989 had been. [75]

Although the cleanup process, and the assessment work which preceded and followed the various cleanups, provided park officials with some biological data, the damage assessment program promised greater scientific rewards.

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) program was authorized by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council in the summer of 1989. Under the auspices of this program, numerous projects were authorized that had, as their primary purpose, the determination of the degree of damage which various sites had suffered and their ability to recover in subsequent years. The NRDA was an interdisciplinary effort, and ostensibly a cooperative venture between the various state and federal agencies. Recognizing the economic rewards that the damage assessment process might yield, however, other agencies refused to allow the NPS full participation. As a result, none of the 83 natural resource studies authorized during the 1989-1991 period were led or co-led by the National Park Service. [76]

So far as is known, fewer than a score of those studies utilized sample sites under NPS jurisdiction, and only seven of them studied Katmai's shoreline environment. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration served as co-leaders of two air and water studies which took samples at the park. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, in two different studies, used Katmai in order to test the effect of the oil spill on pink and chum salmon populations. The ADF&G also sponsored three other studies: one which focused on bivalves (clams), another a terrestrial mammal study involving carnivores (including brown bears) and small mammals, and a third which specifically focused on brown bear populations. Five of the studies were active in 1989, four in 1990, and one in 1991. All seven tested numerous areas, only a few of which were located within Katmai National Park and Preserve. [77]

On October 8, 1991, Judge H. Russel Holland approved a settlement proposal for claims by the United States and the State of Alaska against Exxon Corporation and Exxon Shipping Company for criminal violations and civil damages resulting from the oil spill. Holland's decision meant that the damage assessment phase of the oil spill investigations was nearing an end. (The following summer turned out to be the last in which damage assessment projects took place. None of those studies used Katmai as a field site.) The next phase was restoration project work. Restoration planning had begun back in the summer of 1989, and late that year a Restoration Planning Work Group had been formed. [78] The first restoration projects, however, did not take place until 1992.

A total of 17 natural resource-based restoration projects took place in 1992. The NPS was the lead agency for only one of those studies, however. That study--which concerned the recovery of intertidal mussel beds--utilized Katmai as a field location. Tom Sucanek, from the University of California at Davis, did the field work that year. In 1993, the only NPS project of 43 "preferred projects" was a continuation of Sucanek's study. [79]

Two other oil spill related studies that took place in 1992: a bald eagle nesting productivity survey, and an aerial survey of harbor seals and sea lions, the latter done by Gail Ervine and Carl Shock for the NMFS National Marine Mammal Laboratory. Both projects were funded with oil spill monies; project participants were NPS employees. [80]

Subsistence Issues

As noted in Chapter 5, Katmai National Monument did not allow subsistence activities prior to the passage of the 1980 Alaska Lands Act. According to Title II of the act, subsistence activities were allowed within the area that was added to the pre-1978 acreage of Denali (Mount McKinley) National Park. No provision was made, however, for subsistence within the newly-created portions of either Katmai National Park or Glacier Bay National Park. For that reason, ANILCA decreed that a Subsistence Resource Commission be established for Denali. No such commission was established for Katmai or Glacier Bay.

Subsistence was, however, authorized in the 374,000-acre Katmai National Preserve, which was located just north of Katmai National Park. Denali, Glacier Bay, and Katmai all had preserve units attached to the national parks, and ANILCA also created seven other preserves scattered around the state. Preserves differed from parks or monuments in that they permitted sport hunting, but each preserve also allowed a full range of subsistence activities. It is not known why Congress created a Katmai National Preserve at the northern end of the park and did not make such an area west or south of the existing monument. The data presented in Steve Behnke's 1978 study (noted earlier in this chapter) may have helped; it showed that most of the expanded park area was not used for subsistence purposes by local residents. Most of the area included in present-day Katmai National Preserve, however, was used by the residents of Levelock, Igiugig, or Kakhonak. [81]

The preserve, once created, was largely ignored by the National Park Service for the next decade. The state, through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, managed subsistence activities. NPS officials, lacking active management authority, may have felt that they had no business in regulating subsistence activities, or they may have ignored the preserve because it presented few management conflicts. Besides, more pressing problems were found in Brooks Camp and other, less remote locations. The extent of their management, therefore, was the issuance of cabin permits and occasional law enforcement activities. [82]

The park's relative lack of concern about its subsistence problems is reflected in the priority given subsistence studies in the various resource management plans. In the 1982 RMP, the preparation of subsistence management plan was considered both a natural resource and cultural resource priority. It was ranked fourth among 16 potential natural resource projects, but last among six cultural projects. [83] By 1985, the preparation of a subsistence plan was considered relatively unimportant; of 22 nominated natural resource projects, the plan was ranked 16th. In 1987, two subsistence projects were considered: 1) preparation of a subsistence management plan, and 2) a monitoring study which would show the effect of subsistence use on Preserve wildlife populations. Of 51 natural resource projects, the monitoring study was ranked 15th, while the management study was ranked 38th. Because of their relatively low ranking, neither of these studies were immediately enacted. [84]

Park staff continued to give subsistence issues a relatively low priority for the rest of the decade. In December 1989, however, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state's subsistence program violated the Alaska Constitution. It requested that the Alaska legislature prepare a new subsistence program that would be in conformance with both ANILCA and the constitution. The 1990 legislature, however, was unable to act. The issue dominated the regular legislative session that year, and was considered so important that Governor Steve Cowper called the legislature into special session to deal with the issue. The legislature was still in session on July 1; on that date, the federal government began managing the subsistence resources on federal land in Alaska. Nine days later, the special session adjourned, still without a subsistence bill. Since that time various federal agencies, not the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, have been responsible for managing subsistence. [85] The NPS responded to its new responsibilities by hiring several subsistence specialists for Alaska park units. Susan Savage, one of those specialists, was hired as Katmai's first Subsistence Manager in the fall of 1991. [86]

The creation of a subsistence staff position allowed more attention to be given to subsistence issues. By May 1992 a draft subsistence management plan had been prepared and included as one of three elements in the park's Resource Management Plan. That plan, as noted earlier in the chapter, was signed by the superintendent and regional director in August 1994. The park has also attempted, with mixed success, to monitor Katmai National Preserve wildlife populations. It has coordinated moose and caribou monitoring with Alaska Fish and Game personnel, but it has had relatively little success in monitoring the Preserve's furbearer populations. It has also begun to study the current and historical subsistence patterns of residents of Levelock, Igiugig, and Kakhonak, the three villages which lie closest to the preserve. [87]

A subsistence issue that has emerged since 1990 deals with Native subsistence fishing on Naknek River near Lake Camp. For decades, perhaps longer, local Natives had been harvesting late-spawning red salmon ("redfish") along the Naknek River, and beginning in the late 1950s they used set nets which they placed near the outflow of Naknek Lake. In 1967, however, the Alaska Fish and Game Department closed the river to set net activity above New Savonoski. When Katmai National Monument was expanded in 1969 to include the western end of Naknek Lake, federal authorities (who now had concurrent jurisdiction over the area) also determined that the practice was illegal because no provisions for subsistence were included in President Johnson's proclamation. Despite both federal and state prohibitions, local Natives continued to carry on the late season fishery. NPS officials were either unaware of the activity, or they tacitly allowed it to continue.

When the Alaska Lands Act was passed in 1980, subsistence regulations at the western end of Naknek Lake did not change because the area, designated as part of Katmai National Park, continued to prohibit subsistence activities. During the winter of 1981-82, however, the Alaska Board of Fisheries passed a regulation which allowed sockeye salmon fishing "along a 100 yard length of the west shore of Naknek Lake near the outlet to the Naknek River as marked by ADF&G markers," but only from October 1 through December 31. Another regulation allowed occasional subsistence fishing on Naknek River from June 23 through July 17. This subsistence redfish fishery was contrary to NPS regulations; even so, it continued for the remainder of the decade. [88]

The National Park Service had the power to close down the redfish fishery. The fishery continued, however. Dave Morris, who was superintendent when the regulations were implemented, undoubtedly knew about the late season fishery but tacitly allowed it. His successor, Ray Bane, was unaware of its existence. [89] NPS personnel did not become reawakened to the regulations until May 1990, when Acting Superintendent Jim Ryan attended a meeting of the Subsistence Work Group Panel, an informal assemblage of officials appointed from the various federal agencies. Ryan was perplexed that such regulations were on the books because ANILCA specifically stated that "Existing levels of subsistence use will continue in the preserve but will not be allowed in the park." He himself had been advising prospective subsistence fishermen that such activities were prohibited. But the NPS had no opportunity to remove the offending regulations when the Federal government took over subsistence management that summer, and the subsistence redfish fishery continued to operate in the Lake Camp area until the fall of 1991. The temporary regulations which guided subsistence activities between July 1991 and June 1992 continued to include the two regulations noted above. [90]

Katmai officials soon recognized that the subsistence fishery was incompatible with the 1969 Presidential proclamation which had extended Katmai's boundaries to the western end of Naknek Lake. Katmai's superintendent, therefore, proposed in early 1992 that the ADF&G regulation allowing subsistence fishing near its marker be eliminated. The Bristol Bay Native Association and several local citizens opposed the move, and Senator Stevens intervened on their behalf. The new regulations were nevertheless implemented, and the subsistence fishery was closed beginning in the summer of 1992. [91]

Perhaps in reaction to having their subsistence rights revoked, Native groups began pressuring NPS officials to have the entire park unit opened to subsistence uses. The Bristol Bay Native Association, in October 1992, passed a resolution stating that "if the Federal Subsistence Board and National Park Service do not do so, the United States Congress is urged to take appropriate legislative action to open Katmai National Park to subsistence fishing..." The NPS, citing existing legislation, had no choice but to oppose such a move. Natives, still seething over the issue, presented their concerns in early March 1993 at a Dillingham meeting of the Joint Federal-State Commission on Policies and Programs Affecting Alaska Natives. Congress did not take formal action on the matter. But the NPS, given time, has softened its stance, and by the fall of 1994 park officials were tacitly allowing the practice. [92]

Novarupta Volcano
One of the major findings of the Katmai Project of 1953-1954 was the discovery that Novarupta Volcano, not Mount Katmai, was the primary site of the June 1912 voclanic eruption which devastated the area and created the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. This photo, taken by Victor Cahalane in July 1953, shows a portion of the still-steaming Novarupta Volcano. (NPS Photo Collection, neg. 11,922)


(left) In June and July 1965, and again in August 1966, Katmai hosted groups of astronauts, who travelled to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes because its ash deposits wre "believed to be similar to the surface of the moon." They flew into the valley on helicopters based at nearby King Salmon Air Base. (right) An astronaut in training peers into the eroded ash deposits of the Ukak River valey. (Bartlett Collection, NPS Box 2 (both photos) )

Smith and astronauts
During their 1966 trip to Katmai, Robert L. Smith of the USGS discussed the valey's geological formations to a group of astronauts in training. (NASA photo S-66-50451)

Bassett, Cunningham, Bean

Cernan, Chaffee
(top) A USGS geologist (left), based in Flagstaff , discusses geological formations with (left to right) Charles A. Bassett II, R. Walter Cunningham, and Alan L. Bean. (bottom) Astronauts Eugene A. Cernan (left) and Roger B. Chaffee gathering geology specimens during their 1965 field trip. (NASA photos 65-H-1223 (top) and 65-H-1212 (bottom) )

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Last Updated: 24-Sep-2000