Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Last stand for forestry office set

 


Alaska’s top Division of Forestry officials are coming to town next week to discuss with residents and Haines Borough officials the future of the local forestry office. It’s bleaker than it was a year ago.

The Alaska Legislature last year decimated funding for the two-person Haines office, laying off 30-year veteran Roy Josephson. The division scraped together some money from a separate pot of statewide fire suppression funds to keep forester Greg Palmieri on, but that was only a temporary fix to buy time, state forester and director Chris Maisch said this week.

“We dug into our fire budget and funded him primarily on fire dollars, which was a stretch since the fire workload is not very large there,” Maisch said. “That and some federal money are the only things that have been keeping (Palmieri’s) position funded.”

Maisch will be in town Aug. 22-25 with several forestry officials meeting with interest groups “to talk about the Haines office and its trajectory for potentially closing, which is the trajectory it is currently on.”

Residents can attend a public meeting to share their thoughts on retaining a local forestry office at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Chilkat Center lobby. Forestry officials will provide information and field questions from the public.

Asked if there was anything he might hear or learn during his visit that would make him divert funds from another office to Haines, Maisch said he was keeping an open mind but “the glide path is not very pretty.”

Ketchikan and Juneau forestry offices initially were also cut from last year’s legislative budget along with Haines, but funding was restored for three positions in Ketchikan and one in Juneau.

Maisch said he wouldn’t consider cutting one of the Ketchikan positions and diverting the funding to the Haines post.

“The problem is Ketchikan is one of the highest revenue-generating offices and the timber receipts I collect help fund about $800,000 of other positions in the division,” Maisch said. “That is why I am not going to relocate any positions to Haines from that office.”

The Haines Chamber of Commerce last week wrote a letter to state Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau, imploring him to help Haines maintain a forester in Haines.

President Kyle Gray wrote in the letter that the chamber believes the Haines State Forest is “undervalued” by the administration and legislature, and that a new milling business and developing biomass project will help bolster forest receipts.

Managing the 286,000-acre Haines State Forest from Juneau is not a viable option, Gray wrote, as a boots-on-the-ground forester with local knowledge is tuned in to subtle trends and can anticipate needs that fuel the local economy.

Chamber executive director Debra Schnabel said having a local office where business owners can meet one-on-one with a forester to negotiate timber sales is also beneficial.

“Coming to the state forester’s office or having the forester out to your place and having him be responsive to your particular problems, that is how things get done,” Schnabel said. “Trying to operate your business without the owner of the source available to you is not a way to do business.”

Maisch acknowledged the chamber made solid points in their letter.

“(They made) great arguments, but in the bigger scheme of things, it doesn’t generate anywhere close to the revenue that would support the position,” he said.

The division is also looking to transfer lead agency status for wildland suppression functions to the U.S. Forest Service, which would make the service the initial responder. That would take away the fire suppression funds that have kept Palmieri’s job hanging by a thread, Maisch said.

“The only thing that would be left is the very small amount of other funding we have, about a month’s work,” he said.

Maisch said he may be able to use federal funds for Palmieri to work on a big project in the Tongass forest, but the local office would still be closed to the public.

While in Haines, the forestry officials will also be taking a trip to the Porcupine District and discussing how it will maintain the road systems the division is responsible for.

“If we can’t take care of it and maintain it then we have to decommission it,” Maisch said.

 
 

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