Access to the national forest was the primary topic of concern at last week’s Tongass land management plan public meeting in Ketchikan. The event was part of the mandatory five-year review, and was one of a series of public meetings taking place throughout Southeast Alaska.
Southeast Alaska hunters, hikers and berry pickers like to use old logging roads to get deep into the Tongass. Anyone who has tried to bushwhack through the dense rainforest knows why. But in recent years, the U.S. Forest Service has “water-barred” and removed culverts from many of those old roads, making them unnavigable for motor vehicles, and to some degree even for people trying to walk them.
After an absence of about four years, D Jay O’Brien recently visited Prince of Wales Island, which has many miles of logging roads. He says he was taken aback by how many roads had been closed.
“I don’t really see the value in pulling culverts from a perfectly good road and limiting public access,” he said. “If that’s part of this plan, then I’m not in favor of that.”
Merle Schultz argues that closing logging roads after a timber harvest means the forest is pretty much closed to everyone except loggers. He says it’s especially tough for seniors who want to continue hunting.
“I’m 82 years old,” he said. “I can’t pack a deer three, four miles like I used to anymore.”
Ben Williams says it’s not logical to close the old logging roads. He suggests that the Forest Service just stop maintaining the roads, and let nature do its work.
“If God claims them, Mother Nature claims them, whether landslide or washout or whatever, so be it. That’s fine,” he said. “I understand liability. Put up a sign: If you travel these roads, it’s at your own risk. But to take out this infrastructure, that we paid for with tax dollars, which is all of us in this room, and pull it out and destroy it, there’s something wrong with that.”
The Forest Service in 2009 started closing some old logging roads in part because budget cuts meant they couldn’t continue maintaining them all. That’s according to Ketchikan District Ranger Jeff DeFreest. He says that some kind of maintenance is needed, not just because of liability concerns. The public was involved in choosing which roads to keep open, and DeFreest says that specific issue could come up again for comment.
“There was opportunity for public scoping that was done in 2009, and there’s opportunities for that in the future again as well, to look at what road systems are open, or how many miles of road we can afford to maintain,” he said. “And again, that’s to maintain it to a certain standard so that it’s safe, but also so that it’s environmentally sound so that we’re not damaging fisheries or other important resources on Revilla Island.”
Other public comments from the recent meeting focused on logging, pro and con. Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association wants more stands set aside for logging, and Susan Walsh suggested that the Forest Service designate parts of the Tongass for carbon storage, in order to sell carbon credits and thus supplement its budget.
Holly Churchill says that more should be done to maintain cultural heritage resources on the forest, and educate the public about the history of the area.
Mike Round of the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association hopes the forest plan can be amended to include a mechanism for his organization to use Connell Lake as a coho hatchery. He says the Forest Service blocked those efforts in the past because the area has been designated for recreation.
“SSRAA still has a great deal of interest in Connell Lake for lake-rearing of salmon,” he said. “It is on the road system, it makes it a much more economic viable project just because we can get to and from that lake. It’s a very low-profile operation. I gather we were unsuitable in that area because we were considered to be a commercial enterprise. That’s kind of stretching it. We raise fish and we let them go in the common property of the State of Alaska. We don’t sell anything.”
Connell Lake is a man-made lake. The dam was built by Ketchikan Pulp Co. in the 1950s. In the 1990s, the City of Ketchikan looked into turning the lake into a hydroelectric project, and in 2010, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough tried gaining ownership of the land through a bill that Rep. Don Young submitted to Congress. So far, though, the lake and surrounding land remains part of the Tongass.
The main point of the five-year review is to determine what, if anything, needs to be amended in the Tongass land and resource management plan.
In addition to input from public meetings, Forest Service officials will take written comments through the end of June. That deadline recently was extended in response to a request from Alaska’s Sen. Mark Begich. For more information and to submit comments, go to http://www.tnf-5yearreview.com/