Standing together against state mismanagement

A trail with wooden steps leads through evergreen trees and underbrush on Canoe Point Trail.

Written by Katie Rooks

November 15, 2023

Alaska forest management plans falling short

Southeast Alaska has one of the richest natural resources in the world: its vast temperate rainforest, including large tracts of undisturbed old-growth trees, the carbon storage stars of the climate discussion. Recently, the world has learned even more about how important these forests are in the face of rapid climate change.

Unfortunately, while the Tongass National Forest is embracing some of the changing national priorities for public land management, the State of Alaska Division of Forestry aims to log its remaining old-growth holdings in the next few years.

OLD IDEAS ON OLD GROWTH

Most of these remaining old-growth areas are on Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands. Even though the Division of Forestry acknowledges the fact that most of the remaining timber it plans to log is high-defect and low- value, and despite large-scale public outcry (more than 340 comments, the vast majority in opposition, were received regarding the Whale Pass timber sale alone), the State is proceeding with its plans to clearcut the town and an adjacent parcel, contrary to the current management plan for those areas. Residents today cite the same concerns, with an even higher degree of intensity, in public comments on the Five-Year Schedule of Timber Sales (FYSTS) for the Southern Southeast Alaska region.

CUTTING DOWN ACCOUNTABILITY

Governor Dunleavy wants us to believe the Expedited Timber Sale bill, HB 104, will somehow both protect forests and provide economic benefits — nothing could be more inaccurate. HB104 would allow the Department of Natural Resources even more authority to quickly dispose of State timber with even less public process. The bill claims this authority would only be used to engineer sales for stands of timber that are already damaged by fire, insects or disease, or are significantly “threatened” in the very near future, however, an existing Salvage Sale provision already provides for such disposal of timber. The key difference is that the Expedited Timber Sale bill proposes to speed up sales via bypassing one of the public comment opportunities associated with other timber sales. The bill also allows timber to be cut beyond the Annual Allowable Cut threshold.

SEEDS OF HOPE

While I’m deeply mistrustful of the State of Alaska’s timber management program, I have hope for a future in which residents are given the consideration, respect, and attention they deserve when they engage with resource managers. I’m hopeful Alaska’s land managers will listen to the concerns of people and create plans — as they are supposed to — that work in harmony with residents’ needs, cultural and subsistence use, and economic objectives. I’m hopeful that Traditional Ecological Knowledge from Tribes and individuals will begin to be sought and used as a matter of course, not an exception, when making land use decisions. And I have hope that the long- term health of our forests will become more important to land managers than short-term economic benefits. One of the biggest wins for SEACC in 2023 was that we spoke with State Legislators who are willing to listen and to continue to have dialogue with SEACC regarding these topics.

There are things we can do together to promote positive change. The first step is monitoring and investigating information about State land management activities as it emerges, followed by frequent and meaningful communication with Alaska’s resource managers. As the Prince of Wales Island Area Plan comes up for renewal, SEACC is driving public attention toward how that process is being orchestrated and the consideration being afforded for public comment and input. Meantime, we have produced and helped others produce public comments in opposition to old-growth timber sales on Prince of Wales and surrounding areas, and will continue to do so.

SEACC will be writing a letter sharing our findings from the recent state records request, our interpretation of current timber sale proposals, and our interactions with state DNR staff, members of Congress, Prince of Wales area supporters, and others in the larger Southeast community. We have produced a fact sheet that details the public process involved in a state timber sale, and helps members of the public understand how to participate in each step of the process.

SEACC will continue to fight HB 104 in the coming legislative session, and encourage and assist others to do so, as we simultaneously look for ways to improve accountability and public response within the State of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources. With a solid understanding of the State of Alaska’s Southeast timber management program under our belt, SEACC will forge ahead using several engagement strategies, while helping others understand how they can participate, promote positive change, and make their voices heard by the State of Alaska’s resource managers.

Photo: Katie Rooks

Read this story in the Ravencall Fall/Winter 2023-2024 PDF edition.

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