[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 213 (Monday, November 4, 2013)]
[Pages 66061-66064]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-26021]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R7-R-2013-N156; FF07RKNA00 FXRS12610700000 134]

Notice of Hunting and Trapping Restrictions Within the Skilak 
Wildlife Recreation Area (Skilak Loop Management Area) of Kenai 
National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Interior.

ACTION: Notice of permanent closure and restrictions.


SUMMARY: This notice advises the public that the Fish and Wildlife 

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Alaska Region is permanently closing and/or restricting hunting and 
trapping within the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (Skilak Loop 
Management Area), a portion of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. This 
action is consistent with refuge management plans and objectives and 
historic State of Alaska hunting and trapping regulations (regulations 
in effect from 1987 to 2012, and as amended in 2007 and 2012).

DATES: The effective date of the closures and restrictions in this 
notice is November 10, 2013.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Andy Loranger, Refuge Manager, Kenai 
National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 2139, Soldotna, AK 99669; Telephone 
(907) 262-7021; Fax (907) 262-3359; email andy_loranger@fws.gov.


Areas Affected and Closure/Restrictions

    This notice applies to the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (Skilak 
Loop Management Area), a 44,000-acre area of the Kenai National 
Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) which is bound by a line beginning at the 
easternmost junction of the Sterling Highway and the Skilak Loop Road 
(Mile 58), then due south to the south bank of the Kenai River, then 
southerly along the south bank of the Kenai River to its confluence 
with Skilak Lake, then westerly along the north shore of Skilak Lake to 
Lower Skilak Campground, then northerly along the Lower Skilak 
campground road and the Skilak Loop Road to its westernmost junction 
with the Sterling Highway (Mile 75.1), then easterly along the Sterling 
Highway to the point of origin. A map of the area is available at 
Refuge Headquarters and is posted at informational kiosks within the 
    The Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (Skilak Loop Management Area) 
is closed to hunting and trapping by this notice, except that moose may 
be taken by permit (issued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game) 
only, and small game may be taken from October 1 through March 1 by 
falconry and bow and arrow only, and by standard .22 rimfire or shotgun 
in that portion of the area west of a line from the access road from 
the Sterling Highway to Kelly Lake, the Seven Lakes Trail, and the 
access road from Engineer Lake to Skilak Lake Road, and north of the 
Skilak Lake Road, during each weekend from November 1 to December 31, 
including the Friday following Thanksgiving, by youth hunters 16 years 
old or younger accompanied by a licensed hunter 18 years old or older 
who has successfully completed a certified hunter education course, or 
was born on or before January 1, 1986, if the youth has not. State of 
Alaska bag limit regulations apply.
    Permit moose hunts are administered by the Alaska Department of 
Fish and Game. Through mutual agreement with the Fish and Wildlife 
Service, a permitted antlerless moose hunt is allowed when the results 
of a fall survey (conducted cooperatively between the Alaska Department 
of Fish and Game and the Service every other year at a minimum if snow 
cover is adequate) tallies at least 130 animals. A permitted spike-fork 
bull hunt is allowed during the following season when aerial 
composition surveys conducted each year before December 1 indicate the 
bull:cow ratio is greater than 40:100.

Reasons for Closure and Restrictions

    The 1.98 million-acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) was 
first established as the Kenai National Moose Range by Executive Order 
8979 on December 16, 1941. The Range was reestablished as the Kenai 
National Wildlife Refuge in 1980 when the Alaska National Interest 
Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), Public Law. 96-487, 94 Stat. 2371 
(1980) was enacted. The Executive Order purpose was primarily to `` . . 
. protect the natural breeding and feeding range of the giant Kenai 
moose on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska . . .'' ANILCA states the purposes 
of the Refuge include: ``(i) to conserve fish and wildlife populations 
and habitats in their natural diversity including, but not limited to 
moose, bear, mountain goats, Dall sheep, wolves and other furbearers, 
salmonids and other fish, waterfowl and other migratory and 
nonmigratory birds; (ii) to fulfill the international treaty 
obligations of the United States with respect to fish and wildlife and 
their habitats; (iii) to ensure to the maximum extent practicable and 
in a manner consistent with the purposes set forth in paragraph (i), 
water quality and necessary water quantity with the refuge; (iv) to 
provide in a manner consistent with subparagraphs (i) and (ii), 
opportunities for scientific research, interpretation, environmental 
education, and land management training; and (v) to provide, in a 
manner compatible with these purposes, opportunities for fish and 
wildlife oriented recreation.'' ANILCA also designated approximately 
1.3 million acres of the Refuge as Wilderness, to which the purposes 
and provisions of the Wilderness Act of 1964, Public Law 88-577, apply, 
except as modified by ANILCA. These purposes are to secure an enduring 
resource of wilderness, to protect and preserve the wilderness 
character of areas within the National Wilderness Preservation System, 
and to administer this wilderness system for the use and enjoyment of 
the American people in a way that will leave them unimpaired for future 
use and enjoyment as wilderness.
    The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) recognizes six wildlife-dependent 
recreational uses as priority public uses of the Refuge System: 
hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, environmental 
education and interpretation. These uses are legitimate and appropriate 
public uses where compatible with the Refuge System mission and the 
individual refuge purposes, and are to receive enhanced consideration 
over other uses in planning and management. All six of the priority 
public uses have been determined compatible and are authorized on the 
    Section 304(g) of ANILCA directs the Secretary of Interior ``to 
prepare, and from time to time, revise, a comprehensive conservation 
plan for each refuge (in Alaska) . . .''. In 1985, the Service released 
a Record of Decision for the Refuge's first Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan. A directive of this plan was the establishment of a special area, 
the ``Skilak Loop Special Management Area,'' that would be managed to 
increase opportunities for wildlife viewing, environmental education 
and interpretation. In December 1986, the Service, working closely with 
the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, identified specific goals for 
providing wildlife viewing and interpretation opportunities, and 
hunting and trapping opportunities were restricted so wildlife would 
become more abundant, less wary and more easily observed. Regulatory 
proposals that prohibited trapping, allowed taking a small game by 
archery only, and provided a moose hunt by special permit were 
developed and approved by the Alaska Board of Game in 1987. These State 
of Alaska regulations remained in effect until 2013, with modifications 
to allow for a youth-only firearm small game hunt in a portion of the 
area in 2007, and for the use of falconry to take small game in 2012.
    In 1988, to further development of wildlife viewing, environmental 
education and interpretation opportunities, the Service prepared a 
step-down plan for public use facility management and development and 
renamed the area the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area. Improvements to 
existing and development of new visitor

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facilities occurred in ensuing years as funding permitted, and included 
new and improved roads, scenic turn-outs, campgrounds, hiking trails, 
interpretive panels and information kiosks, viewing platforms and boat 
    In 2005, the Alaska Board of Game adopted a proposal to allow 
firearms hunting and small game and fur animals (as practical matter in 
the area, fur animals would include lynx, coyote, beaver, red fox and 
squirrel), but subsequently put the regulation on hold pending the 
Service's development of an updated management plan for the area. The 
Service initiated a public planning process with a series of public 
workshops in November 2005, and evaluated management alternatives 
through an Environmental Assessment which was made available for public 
review and comment in November 2006.
    The Service released a Finding of No Significant Impact, and the 
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area Revised 
Final Management Plan was released in June 2007. Under this plan, the 
overall management direction for the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area as 
a special area to be managed primarily for enhanced opportunities for 
wildlife viewing, environmental education and interpretation while 
allowing other non-conflicting wildlife-dependent recreational 
activities, first established under the 1985 Comprehensive Conservation 
Plan, was reaffirmed. Additional future facility developments and 
improvements in support of providing such opportunities were 
identified, and longstanding restrictions on hunting (including hunting 
of fur animals) and a trapping closure were maintained, with the 
exception of adding the ``youth-only'' small game firearms hunt in the 
western portion of the area. State of Alaska regulations maintaining 
the closures and restrictions, and opening the ``youth-only'' small 
game firearm hunt, were adopted by the Alaska Board of Game in 2007.
    In March 2013 the Alaska Board of Game adopted a proposal that 
would allow taking of lynx, coyote, and wolf within the area under 
State of Alaska hunting regulations. Under this regulation, which 
became effective July 1, 2013, taking of these species is allowed 
during open seasons from November 10 to March 31.
    The Service has determined that the change to State of Alaska 
hunting regulations in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (Skilak Loop 
Management Area) to allow taking of lynx, coyote and wolf directly 
conflicts with approved refuge management plans. As was first 
recognized in the original 1986 plans and specific management 
objectives for furbearers which led to the closure of hunting and 
trapping of these species in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, 
furbearers such as wolves, coyote and lynx are not as easily observed 
as more abundant and/or less wary wildlife species. These species occur 
in relatively low densities, and annual removal of individual wolves, 
coyote or lynx from the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, and/or a 
change in their behavior, due to hunting would reduce opportunities for 
the public to view, photograph or otherwise experience these species. 
Similarly, Refuge environmental education and interpretation programs 
which benefit from the enhanced opportunities provided in the area to 
view or otherwise experience these species would be negatively 
    Providing for non-consumptive educational and recreational uses, as 
well as for hunting and fishing, are legally mandated Refuge purposes 
under ANILCA. Opportunities to view or photograph wildlife, or to learn 
through environmental education and interpretation programs, represent 
a highly valued experience for many Refuge visitors. The Skilak 
Wildlife Recreation Area, which comprises approximately two percent of 
land area of the Refuge, contributes to meeting those refuge purposes. 
Hunting and trapping of lynx, coyote and wolves remains authorized on 
over 97% of the Refuge (over 1.9 million acres).
    The Service has reviewed its 2007 management plan and associated 
Environmental Assessment for the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, and 
its 2007 Compatibility Determination for hunting on the Refuge, and has 
determined that the information evaluated and decisions rendered 
regarding management direction for the area and compatibility of 
hunting remain current and valid. The continuation of hunting and 
trapping restrictions under this Federal closure, to include a closure 
on the hunting and trapping of lynx, coyote and wolf, is necessary to 
ensure that Service objectives to provide enhanced wildlife viewing, 
environmental education and interpretation opportunities in the area 
continue to be met. Meeting Refuge public use objectives in the Skilak 
Wildlife Recreation Area is consistent with and directly supports 
meeting specific Refuge purposes under ANILCA for providing the public 
opportunities for environmental education and interpretation and for a 
variety of wildlife-dependent recreational activities including 
wildlife viewing and photography. Administration of non-conflicting 
hunting activities and use of firearms in the Skilak Wildlife 
Recreation Area through regulation and in a manner which supports 
meeting all Refuge purposes, minimizes conflicts among user groups, and 
ensures public safety, is necessary to ensure the compatibility of 
hunting as an authorized use on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Public Hearings Held and Comments Considered

    Pursuant to 50 CFR 36.42, the Service held public hearings to 
provide notice of the proposed permanent closure and to receive public 
input. Hearings were held on July 31 and August 1, 2013 in Soldotna and 
Anchorage, Alaska respectively. In addition, written comments were 
accepted through August 16, 2013. A total of 26 people testified at the 
public hearings, 18 of them expressed support for the proposed Service 
action. Among this group were representatives of five organizations 
speaking in favor of the action: Friends of Alaska Refuges (which also 
said it spoke for The Wilderness Society), the Alaska Wildlife 
Alliance, the Sierra Club, Friends of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge 
and the Center for Biological Diversity. Seven speakers were opposed 
including a representative of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 
They basically favored the State's change to the hunting regulations 
opening the area up to more hunting. One person expressed general 
opposition to all hunting and trapping.
    A total of 180 written comments were submitted via email, fax, or 
mail. Of these, 78 supported the closure and addressed the area's 
importance for non-consumptive uses by the public. Of these written 
comments, 29 appear to be form comments with no individual statement. 
The remaining 49 contained some comment personal to the writer. 
Included in the written comments supporting the closure and 
restrictions were written statements by five organizations: Kachemak 
Bay Conservation Society, Defenders of Wildlife, the National Parks 
Conservation Association, the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, and the Center 
for Biological Diversity. Among the remaining written comments were 93 
individuals who expressed opposition to opening hunting or trapping in 
the area because of opposition to hunting or trapping in general, and/
or to hunting and trapping on a national wildlife refuge or of 
predators specifically. Nine written comments expressed opposition to 
the Service's proposed action and

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support for the State's Board of Game's change. In addition to the 
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Kenai Peninsula Chapter of the 
Safari Club International was among those opposing the Service action 
and supporting the State's change.
    The Service considered all of the oral and written comments. It 
concludes that maintaining the closure on the take of lynx, coyote and 
wolf is necessary to meet the Refuge management plan objectives to 
provide for enhanced opportunities for wildlife viewing, environmental 
education, and interpretation in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area. 
This decision is in keeping with the Refuge purposes under ANILCA and 
furthers the public use objectives that have consistently been 
identified for management of the area since 1985. Designating and 
administering the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area in support of these 
purposes, while allowing for additional non-conflicting uses in the 
area, is a proper management approach which recognizes the obligation 
to provide educational and both consumptive, and non-consumptive, 
wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities for the public on the 


    This closure notice is pursuant to 50 CFR 36.42 for permanent 
closures or restrictions on Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. 
Authorities for this action are found within the National Wildlife 
Refuge Administration Act of 1966, as amended by the National Wildlife 
Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 (16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee); the 
Refuge Recreation Act of 1962 (16 U.S.C. 460k-460k-4); and the Alaska 
National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, Public Law 96-487, 94 
Stat. 2371 (1980).

Geoffrey L. Haskett,
Regional Director, Alaska Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Anchorage, Alaska.
[FR Doc. 2013-26021 Filed 11-1-13; 8:45 am]