UA timber sale contract remains unsigned
May 30, 2019
The University of Alaska timber sale remains stalled due to tariffs and a lack of log transfer infrastructure, a university spokesperson said last week.
Negotiations to harvest roughly 6,000 acres of its land in the Chilkat Valley, a process that began in March 2018, were first delayed months after the University announced the sale. Last year university officials told the public that a contract would be signed and approved by summer 2018. In November, with a contract still unsigned, the university blamed delays on illegal timber harvests on its land.
Morgan Howard, spokesman for the university land’s department, said that the contract delay now comes, in part, from Chinese buyers’ decreased interest due to trade wars. In September, the Trump administration imposed a 10 percent tariff on exported timber to China—the US’s top customer. This month, Trump increased that tariff to 25 percent.
“It’s fair to say the end product would go to China, most of Southeast timber does,” Howard said.
Last fall, a five-year timber sale in the Mat-Su Borough fell through when Chinese buyers pulled out, citing increased expenses.
Howard said another factor “is the timing of the other landowners and their harvest.”
The university hoped to construct a log transfer facility to move the logs from land to water in partnership with the Alaska Mental Health Trust and the state, Howard said.
“The vision was to have all three land owners harvesting together,” Howard said, a timeline the landowners are no longer interested in.
The university also announced this week it won’t hire a local caretaker, a forestry position officials said in December was a top priority, “until a thorough determination of the sale area is completed.”
The university is also changing its stance on carbon credits. In a November visit, Haines residents asked university representatives if they would consider a carbon credit program instead of harvesting the timber—a certificate that allows companies to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon credits, in this case in the form of timber stands.
At the time, former land manager Patrick Kelly said that the university’s fiduciary responsibility did not make them a viable client for a 100-year carbon credit commitment, because if a higher investment use were to come up, the university would be obliged to back out of the deal.
New management is consulting with experts to analyze a carbon program’s potential, weighed against the proposed 10-year timber sale, Howard said.
“The team will continue to review all university lands that best fit the carbon credit program and then proceed with an RFP for a project team/advisor to help facilitate their participation in the program,” Howard wrote in a newsletter.
He said that the university expects it would take two to three years to implement such a program.
In March 2018, the university withdrew a controversial timber sale on 400 acres of land on the Chilkat Peninsula weeks before announcing the current sale.