University alleges illegal timber harvest
November 1, 2018
The allegations include "trespass trails," timber theft, establishment of roads and trap lines, placement of signs, hunting, and "in the most egregious case, a cabin and fenced equipment storage area," according to UA Vice President Michelle Rizk.
Morgan Howard, liaison for the UA Land Management Office, notified the public in an Oct. 30 newsletter on the timber sale. Howard included photos and GPS coordinates of each offense the university discovered while canvassing the land.
The university asked for the borough's assistance in solving the problem, answered by borough manager Debra Schnabel.
"I am tracking each of the issues they have raised," Schnabel said. "I don't have absolute conclusions, but all of them, with the exception of one, are identifiable," Schnabel said. "The only site the borough has not yet been able to trace is off Chilkat Lake Road, where several trees were cut into timber."
The cabin, which sits on the west side of the Chilkat River at 10 Mile Haines Highway, was identified by family and friends as the late Norm Blank's, who died in 2012. His widow, Patricia Blank, said that they built the cabin around 1970, and paid the state $25 a year in leasing fees. Mrs. Blank doesn't remember when they stopped the payments.
In 1984, the Department of Natural Resources conveyed about 13,000 acres of land within the Haines Borough to the university.
State forester Greg Palmieri said he remembers putting Blank in touch with the university years ago when it was discovered that Blank's cabin was on university property. The university and State Parks don't have records of Blank's cabin, or any agreement. The university said they were unaware of the history, and will look into it.
Norm Hughes, Blank's hunting friend of 20 years, said he still uses the cabin during moose hunting season.
"While working in Haines from 9/9/2018 to 9/13/2018 the UA Lands staff encountered two areas of timber theft." Howard said. The first was off Mosquito Lake Road where three piles of spruce logs were decked, and a second location was off Chilkat Lake Road where "there were several trees cut approximately 230 feet from the road into the timber."
Both incidents were reported by the university to Haines Police, State Troopers, and the Alaska State Division of Forestry.
Palmieri is investigating both incidents, but said it's yet to be determined whether or not it can be deemed "theft."
Palmieri said that in the Chilkat Lake Road incident, it was clear that timber was harvested, but it wasn't cut recently and that it will be difficult to determine who did it. The borough has identified the first harvester who claims that the trees were on his property.
University Public Relations officer Robbie Graham said that the discoveries will affect the potential sale on 13,000 acres of its land by delaying the surveying, which the university has already announced will go well into 2019.
According to the university casual use of university land does not require authorization, and allows uses such as "individual hiking, picnicking, cross-country skiing or berry picking."
"A lot of the inspections were done from the air and that will probably now cease," Graham said. "Inspections will (now) be done from the ground to make sure that if there's any further theft or incidents or trespassing it can be seen more plainly."
Schnabel said that she intends to pursue the issues with the trap line, cabin, and trails. She said she believes that citing grant money the borough received for the Mount Riley and Ripinski trails might help prove state-sanctioned upgrades to the land, and could mitigate the argument of trespass.
"Looking at the photos, it's clear that nobody is trying to act secretively," Schnabel said. "It's somebody who believes they are acting legitimately, which leads me to believe there are surveying issues with the university," she said.
Schnabel said she hopes to engage in a conversation instead of allegations of criminal activity.