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

Industry makes case for forestry office

 


About a dozen timber operators and sawyers made their case for keeping open a state Division of Forestry office in Haines Tuesday, including questioning why a forester position based in Juneau – where there is no state forest – couldn’t be relocated to Haines.

The Haines State Forest covers 260,000 acres.

“What does Juneau do that can’t be done here?” asked Sylvia Heinz, whose family recently launched a small milling operation.

State forester Chris Maisch explained that Haines, Juneau and Ketchikan forestry positions were eliminated from the budget at one point, but that legislators were able to re-insert the jobs in Juneau and Ketchikan.

“(The Juneau position) is not more valuable, but that’s not where we were directed (by legislators) to cut,” Maisch said.

Maisch said he was trying to “soft land the situation we’re in” and had four months of fire suppression funding that could go toward keeping open the local office, but that compares to seven months of the same funding available last year, when the office was closed several winter months.

“We’re going to definitely have a winter closure. It likely might be a longer closure this year,” Maisch said. He said he could not provide a hard date for when the office here might close, but said he would have a better idea at the end of September.

“Fire money is a tool we’re using right now (to keep the office open), but I’m running out of discretionary money to keep things open,” Maisch said.

Maisch said the decision to close the Haines office was due to the relatively low receipts the office brings in.

Stump Co. owner Scott Rossman, one of the largest operators in the local forest by volume, testified that his spruce house logs are shipped to log-cabin builders in Southcentral and Interior Alaska.

“These guys like our wood instead of their white pine and this is the only place in Alaska where Sitka spruce can be shipped to customers by road,” Rossman said. “All this wood is benefitting the people in Alaska. I can’t stress that more. We just need some help to make that happen.”

Rossman said after the meeting that sales of whole logs for houses aren’t predicable, and that when he gets an order, he goes to the local forestry office to put together a small sale that can fill it. With the closest forester in Juneau, he’s afraid he won’t get wood in time to fill those orders.

“Nobody knows what the mechanism (for sales) is going to be or how it’s going to work. Nobody knows that at this point. We need more than, ‘Draw a circle around 50 acres of timber and bid on it.’ Doing what we need takes more time than that,” Rossman said.

Other operators at the meeting said they go after different types of wood for different uses, and that the kind of selective logging they do takes more time for a forester to administer than a clearcut.

“I don’t do quantity. I do quality,” said Tom Ward Jr., whose wood gies for such items as bowls and picture frames. “I try to fill a niche and do value-added. Everybody loves it.”

Heinz said local wood products, like locally grown produce, were growing in popularity with consumers. “My generation is really into it. I can see it growing.”

Jack Smith suggested that without personnel here, forest regulations become hard to enforce. “If our forester leaves, what keeps it from becoming a free-for-all? There’s a lot of nice trees out there. (A forester) keeps an eye on things.”

Maisch responded that the forest would not get the same level of attention. “We’ll do the best we can, but it will be a different level of service,” including issuance of firewood permits online and spot checks.

Maisch said that the Forest Service, not the state Division of Forestry, would become the lead agency for fighting wildfires here, and the Haines Volunteer Fire Department would serve as first responders to wildfires.

“This is not a high fire risk area. You get fires here, but the risk of a large, damaging fire here is relatively small compared to the rest of the state… It’s a matter or risk and managing risk statewide,” he said.

He said a state forest on Kodiak already is administered as Haines might be. But he also acknowledged that there was a 5,000-acre fire there last year that took agency firefighters two days to reach.

“Things are changing in Alaska in terms of fire. We’re burning a lot more ground,” Maisch said.

Maisch said his department looked at trying to fund a local position with money from agencies that traditionally used a Haines forester as a local representative, including the state Division of Mining, Land and Water.

The idea was rejected, Maisch said.

 
 

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