Zinke: Leave Sperry Chalet in its historic state

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Doug Mitchell, left and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke during a small press conference in Columbia Falls last week.

Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke said last week that restoring Sperry Chalet to its former grandeur is emerging as the will of the public.

“Restore her to as close to original as we can,” he said during a wide ranging interview with reporters last week in Columbia Falls. “Given upgrades to code ... We don’t want it to burn down again.”

Zinke was in town to talk about the chalet and other matters with Glacier Park Superintendent Jeff Mow and Doug Mitchell, executive director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

The main dormitory of the chalet burned down in the Sprague Fire on Aug. 31. A “lessons learned” report, which will investigate the loss of the chalet is in a final draft form.

Mow said its release to the public should happen soon.

A mechanism to pay for the chalet rebuild is in the works in Congress. Montana Sen. Steve Daines last week announced the National Parks Restoration Act, which will take some revenues from energy development royalties on public lands to address the estimated $11 billion backlog in deferred maintenance in national parks, including Glacier. Glacier’s big ticket items, aside from the ballpark estimate of $7 to $12 million to rebuild the chalet, include rebuilding the Many Glacier Road, which is currently an undulating ribbon of asphalt and dirt, deteriorating more and more with each passing season.

The restoration act may or may not replace fee hikes to enter national parks. Zinke has proposed raising fees to high-profile national parks, including Glacier. Under a plan he released last fall, during the peak season the entrance fee would be $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle per week, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person on bike or foot. An annual pass would cost $75.

Zinke said the fees were still a bargain. He noted the America the Beautiful Pass, which costs $80 and allows for admission to all national parks, wildlife refuges and other fee areas is well worth it.

“It’s the greatest bargain in the American recreation experience,” he said.

He said the fee increase was designed to put more money and flexibility into park budgets and give superintendents more control of their finances.

On the management front, Zinke still touted a reorganization of the Interior Department, reiterating that he wanted boundaries to pay more attention to wildlife corridors and watersheds.

He also spoke to climate change, without saying the words directly.

“There’s no doubt glaciers are becoming smaller,” he said. “No doubt summer temperatures are going up.”

He also spoke to logging in national parks. He noted the Park Service does use mechanical means to remove trees. He said in Glacier, there will be future thinning of trees along the Sun Road at Lake McDonald to maintain the views. There also could be some removal of hazard trees near Avalanche Creek.

“Commercial logging is not perceived in the parks,” he said.

On endangered species, he said the decision to begin delisting the Canada lynx was the right one.

“Our decisions are based on science, not agenda,” he said.

And as the delisting of the grizzly bear in the Northern Continental Divide comes up, he said “we should celebrate the success of the Endangered Species Act.”

Most biologists agree the bear has recovered in the NCDE.

Having said that, Zinke said “we have a lot of species that are in trouble.”

Most notably, native fish, he said.

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