The state Division of Forestry office in Haines would close under a proposal being considered by the Alaska Legislature’s House Finance Committee.

The measure would end the Division of Forestry’s resource management program and close all of the division’s offices in Southeast.

  The Haines office manages the 286,000 acres of the Haines State Forest. According to northern Southeast area forester Roy Josephson, eliminating the office and its two employees would halt all future timber sale activity, including firewood sales.

  “This would immediately impact the local sawmill operators, firewood providers, thinning, pruning, and planting contractors. This is six to seven business owners and associated workers and families,” Josephson said.

The office is also responsible for maintaining logging roads.

   “We maintain logging roads, like the Kelsall and Glacier Creek Roads, so as they wash out or brush closes in, someone will have to do the repairs themselves or people will lose access,” he said.

  Josephson said the forestry department repaired the Kellsall Road three times last year, and fixed Porcupine Road twice when it washed out.

  The proposal was recently made by the House Finance Committee’s natural resources subcommittee chair Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage.

  Pruitt said in an interview Wednesday that in discussions with the Department of Natural Resources – the agency that oversees the Division of Forestry – DNR indicated it would deal with the cuts by closing offices in Ketchikan, Juneau and Haines.

  That’s not to say DNR was happy with Pruitt’s proposal or supported closure of the offices, Pruitt said.

  Pruitt said the Division of Forestry is being targeted because the revenue it generates through forest receipts is not making up for the cost of running the program.

  Pruitt said the closures would save about $1.3 million. There are conflicting numbers for how much the statewide program has brought in through receipts, with legislative finance claiming receipts at $419,000 and DNR claiming $634,000.

  The proposal would eliminate jobs belonging to Josephson and forester Greg Palmieri. “The closure of the Haines office will eliminate two forester positions with combined resource management knowledge of 50 years working here on the Haines State Forest, with long-term connections to the community contributing to the protection and development of the community for 30 and 20 years, respectively,” Josephson wrote in a letter to Haines Borough manager David Sosa and Mayor Jan Hill.

  Resident Scott Rossman, owner of the logging and firewood business The Stump Company, said if the proposal is ultimately passed it would put him and a half-dozen other small operations out of business.

  “If there was no forester to administer the sales and manage the program, then we would just cease to be,” Rossman said.

Rossman and other loggers rely on Josephson to mark out sales for their businesses. “He is the go-to guy to buy timber in the state forest,” Rossman said.

Josephson said closure of the Haines office and the end of active resource management will likely be replaced by “passive” management by other agencies.

“This ‘hands off’  approach could mean the development of a management structure that would put the state forest in a ‘trust’ or entitlement leading to revenue generating prioritized resource extraction only similar to forests managed by private land owners,” Josephson said.

 Pruitt said the office closures are “a real possibility” if the Division of Forestry doesn’t find a way to be more efficient. He also suggested the industry might have “a larger discussion about potentially putting skin in the game in terms of covering some of the additional costs associated with running the program.”

  Pruitt said the subcommittee will be voting on the budget that includes the proposal out of the House Finance committee this week. The budget will move to the House floor next week, Pruitt said, and then the Senate will have its own discussions on the operating budget before it is signed by the governor.

  “Everyone in the state is feeling a pinch,” Pruitt said. “I don’t want people to think we can make the cuts that we need and people won’t be affected.”

To comment on the proposed cut, email [email protected].