Hunting and Fishing Opportunities Threatened on Mendenhall State Game Refuge

Alaska BHA is committed to fighting for wild places and critical habitats that give hunters and anglers an opportunity to participate in the outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting. Critically important fish and wildlife habitat within the Mendenhall State Game Refuge is currently under threat due to a development proposal known as the Juneau-Douglas Second Crossing, and it could restrict access for a huge number of hunters and anglers. BHA is not anti-development, but we are pro-wildlife, habitat, and opportunity guided by sound scientific management.

The Mendenhall State Game Refuge was designated in 1976 by the Alaska State Legislature. It was, in part designated so hunters could learn to pursue waterfowl and have a place to hunt. The Mendenhall Wetlands not only provide opportunities for sport and subsistence hunting and fishing, but they are also a globally important bird area according to National Audubon and have even been called a "fish factory." In 2023, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game added over a dozen anadromous fish to the Anadromous Waters Catalog (AWC) fish streams after surveying the wetlands. A total of 230 species of birds have been documented within the wetlands – that’s 69% of the 335 bird species for all of Southeast Alaska - including 36 different waterfowl species (Audubon). It’s also the most popular waterfowl hunting destination in Southeast Alaska, so yeah, you could say it’s pretty important to the conservation community.

The Juneau-Douglas Second Crossing is a major development project that has a bit of history, 40 years of it, actually. The Second Crossing was first brought up in 1984, and on three other occasions between then and now. The proposal seeks to connect Douglas Island to Juneau and reduce congestion, provide transportation resiliency and facilitate future development on Douglas Island. The reason it never gained traction before is a lack of consensus on location. The City and Borough of Juneau has partnered with the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (ADT&PF), which currently has federal funding for the project, and has narrowed alternatives to 5 different locations for the crossing – four of which go through the Mendenhall State Game Refuge. However, hunters, anglers and conservationists are coalescing around a fifth option, the Salmon Creek Alternative, and most agree that the location of the bridge should be outside of the Mendenhall State Game Refuge. 

 

Regarding a Transportation Corridor on the Mendenhall Wetlands:

The Mendenhall Wetlands State Refuge Management Plan says that: CBJ may acquire land for a public transportation corridor, including a water corridor, only after the following criteria have been demonstrated: 1) That there is a significant public need for the corridor which cannot reasonably be met off refuge 2) That the use of the refuge lands are avoided or minimized to the maximum extent feasible including of subsurface or elevated, no fill corridor options where feasible 3) That public access to the refuge is maintained; and 4) that all unavoidable impacts to the refuge and to refuge resources are fully mitigated through restoration, replacement and/or other compensation. It is not the intent of this policy to prevent the maintenance of the Gastineau navigational channel.

New private, exclusive use transportation corridors will not be authorized within the refuge.

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If a second crossing through the State Game Refuge were to move forward, while there are viable off-refuge options, that would be not be meeting the first criteria of a transportation corridor in the Mendenhall Wetlands State Refuge Plan. In addition, a bridge through the refuge would threaten public access for waterfowl hunting due to the new traffic and road barriers through prime hunting areas. This results in the bridge not meeting the third criteria in the management plan, which dictates that public access to the refuge be maintained.

Alaska BHA has concerns about the JDNC Bird and Upland Habitat Report prepared for ADT&PF as a part of the project. Alaska Audubon's Shorebird Conservation Manager, River Gates has said "Data in the JDNC Bird and Upland Habitat Survey Report was collected just once in the fall when bird migration is protracted over a longer southbound migration period. However repeated seasonal surveys are critical during fall migration as multiple species and age groups (females, males, and juveniles) migrate during slightly different times. It is essential to also hold surveys in the spring, and also in summer when birds are nesting in the wetlands and surrounding areas. Conducting shorebird surveys during low tide without spotting scopes can reduce the observers’ (whose training in accurate rapid census techniques was not outlined) detection rate because birds are greatly dispersed across a large landscape with low light and rain. Rising tide surveys are a better standard as foraging birds are concentrated as the tide rises (allowing for more accurate counts and species identification).”

Alaska BHA demands sound scientific management and analysis of proposed projects from the AKDOT and City and Borough of Juneau (CBJ) that could cause irreparable damage to critical habitats. If construction of the second crossing is deemed necessary by the community of Juneau and thorough analysis is conducted, Alaska BHA encourages decision makers to select the Salmon Creek location which would be the least impactful option to habitat and hunting access.

Stand up for hunting, angling and habitat within the Mendenhall Wetlands and encourage responsible siting of development projects on public lands.

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If you hunt or fish on the Mendenhall State Game Refuge, a second crossing through the refuge will significantly affect your opportunity to recreate here.

About Mary Glaves

Alaska Chapter Coordinator for BHA. You can find Mary outside with a rifle, bow, fishing rod, or mushroom knife most sunny or rainy days on Alaska's public lands.

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