by Hunter McIntosh
President, The Boat Company
Dear Friends of The Boat Company,
As our guest aboard the Liseron or Mist Cove, you’ll recall spending time in some of the most remote wilderness areas of the Tongass National Forest: deep bays and inlets nestled among towering peaks, surrounded by dense forests, and headed by lush estuaries fed by salmon-rich streams. To reach these protected waters you traveled the broader marine highways of Alaska’s Inside Passage, where you likely encountered whales and other marine life and observed, at a distance, the passing of a variety of private and commercial boats and ships.
What was your personal experience of the Tongass?
What was your personal experience of the Tongass? Did you see and spend time with wildlife? Were your own expectations of Tongass wilderness met or exceeded, or did you find yourself among too many other boats or people and wish for greater solitude? Did the wilderness areas you visited show signs of too many human impacts? Did it seem that The Boat Company’s presence and activities were preventing other boaters or visitors from experiencing wilderness solitude?
As we’re sure you’ll agree, we do our best to avoid using wilderness areas when others are ashore in the same place at the same time. We avoid dropping our anchors within sight of other vessels whenever weather and sea conditions permit, and whenever we can reach quality locations for activities and solitude within a reasonable time and distance.
Very soon, however, the Tongass National Forest will update its management plan for permitted use of designated wilderness areas in the region in which “outfitter/guide” companies like The Boat Company operate. This update, called Shoreline II, is of great concern to The Boat Company because the Forest Service’s preferred alternative will drastically reduce the number of places where we’re allowed to drop our anchors for guest activities. This will make it much more difficult for us to ensure quality wilderness time for our guests, greatly reduce the number of people who are able to experience true wilderness, and significantly increase operating costs for companies like ours.
So we’re asking you to send a letter to Tongass Supervisor Earl Stewart and tell him:
- As a member of the public, you value federally protected wilderness;
- You are a past (and possibly future) visitor to the Tongass;
- You rely on the services of operators/guides like The Boat Company to gain access to Tongass wilderness areas;
- Based on your experience with The Boat Company you do not believe opportunities for wilderness solitude in our region are at risk; and
- If any changes are warranted to the current wilderness permitting process, the Forest Service should increase—not reduce—guided access to the Tongass.
UPDATE: The public comment period has been extended until mid-April, with a final deadline to be announced later. More information will be posted as it becomes available. There’s no time to lose because the Forest Service’s public comment period ends on March 14th. To make it easier for you, and with their consent, we have included below a well-written, straight-to-the-point letter by former TBC guests. You’re welcome to borrow from their letter to create your own.
Please submit your comments by email to:
Forest Supervisor, Tongass National Forest
with a copy to
Project Contact, Shoreline II Outfitter/Guide #38181
Tongass National Forest
and a copy to
Your subject: Shoreline II Outfitter/Guide #38181
Thank you for helping to ensure that you and others who share your love of wilderness can continue to experience it through services like ours!
We hope all is well with you, wish you the very best, and look forward to seeing you again aboard the Liseron or Mist Cove.
Sample Comment Letter:
Date: March 10, 2016
Subject: Shoreline II Outfitter/Guide (formerly Shoreline II Outfitter and Guide Management Plan) #38181
To: Carey Case
Shoreline II Project Leader
Petersburg Ranger District
12 North Nordic Drive
P.O. Box 1328
Petersburg, AK, 99833-1328
For: Information (Public Comment)
Additional Shoreline II Comments
The very first thing I noticed was the total lack of public comment on the original proposal, a proposal that has a far-reaching impact on the Tongass and those individuals who visit it each year.
From a layman’s point-of-view (mine), it is not easy to determine how the different alternatives would affect The Boat Company’s operations or those of any other guides or wilderness outfitters.
My cursory review suggests that the Preferred Alternative (Alternative 2 – the one the Forest Service is advancing) would substantially reduce future guided visitor access to Admiralty Island Wilderness, Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm Wilderness and South Baranof Wilderness.
The Preferred Alternative would impact The Boat Company by forcing it to limit their visits ashore in these Wilderness Areas, a practice which they currently impose upon themselves. They would still be able to take some guests ashore in Gut Bay, Brothers Islands, etc. but in–turn, would be asked to limit visits for the sole purpose of protecting “opportunities for solitude”, not because there is any particular risk of The Boat Company compromising the wilderness character of these places, i.e. disrupting wildlife, disturbing vegetation, etc.
The document claims that the Preferred Alternative provides opportunities for some growth in guided access in all Use Areas. But what it fails to revealis that guides, including The Boat Company have been requesting additional access to some Use Areas like Pybus Bay for years, and though the Preferred Alternative will increase the maximum number of service days that the Forest Service can issue in areas like Pybus Bay, the numbers are nowhere near what guides would like to have and, equally as importantly, the numbers are nowhere near what Pybus Bay (or Gut Bay or Tracy Arm) could reasonably support without beginning to create conflicts between guided and unguided users or beginning to cause harm (in any tangible way) to the area’s wilderness character.
From my limited personal experience, I have observed that The Boat Company is not interested in crowding people into Wilderness Areas and causing problems. However, it appears to me that the Forest Service has its sights on being unreasonably restrictive.
Again, judging from my own personal experience, there is little cause for the Forest Service to be concerned over the near-term futures about overcrowding the Tongass with visitors, so commercial outfitter and guide service day allocations should be liberalized substantially, even in Wilderness Areas where there are plenty of regulatory protections in place to reduce risks of harm to wilderness resources – protections such as leave-no-trace requirements, maximum group size of 12 persons and limits to two groups per day in wilderness from a single vessel.
The Forest Service’s bid to excessively restrict guided access to wilderness within the Shoreline II planning area ultimately undermines the public’s (my) ability to enjoy and appreciate the wilderness while doing nothing whatsoever to protect it for us. Excessive restrictions do not help to broaden my support for wilderness protection; in fact they serve to do just the opposite.
[Your Name and Address]