The state of Alaska is taking public comment this month on a draft plan for managing the relatively new Southeast State Forest.
It’s the third state forest in Alaska and much smaller than the other two in the Tanana Valley and near Haines. The Southeast forest lands were set aside by the Legislature in 2010 and acreage was added the following year.
Overall, the lands total more than 48,000 acres in 33 units near Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island. The lands are primarily designated for timber sales.
Jim Schwarber. a forest planner with the Division of Forestry, said that “the intent for these units is to have it managed as a working forest that has again the primary purpose will be timber production but again under the state constitution that will be timber production on a sustainable basis.”
The units range in size from 380 to around 5,000 acres. The draft plan outlines how the lands will be managed, and specifies that public lands remain open for hunting and other recreational use.
But, closures are possible during timber harvest on the units. Schwarber characterized the forest lands as a mix of old-growth and second-growth timber, and says state timber sales have been important for industry.
“Our state timber program in southern Southeast has been very important for helping to provide timber to keep the remaining mills open at Viking Mill, for example,” he said. “Our timber sales have been very helpful when they’ve had trouble getting timber from federal timber sales off the Tongass.”
The state has been selling timber from other lands in Southeast outside the designated forest. There also are sales planned on University lands and Alaska Mental Health Trust property in the region.
The draft Southeast forest plan says clear-cut logging is the primary method of harvest that will be used. It outlines guidelines for building new roads to access timber.
It also sets out goals for timber harvest impacts on water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and known historic sites. The plan also allows personal-use firewood cutting on the forest lands with a permit through the Division of Forestry.
Public comment on the plan is open until 4 p.m. on April 30.
“At this point, I just encourage the public to review the plan if they use any of these areas that are identified on the maps on our web pages,” Schwarber said. “Make sure that if we’ve overlooked something that we enjoy hearing from them and being able to incorporate their knowledge into this planning process as we move through the review draft.”
The state also will hold public meetings on the document in various communities.
The public meeting in Ketchikan starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, at the Ketchikan Public Library. On Prince of Wales Island, public hearings are set for 6 p.m. April 23rd in Edna Bay, and 6 p.m. April 24th in Coffman Cove.
Copies of the draft forest plan were placed in the public libraries in Craig, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Wrangell. The draft plan and maps are available online at http://forestry.alaska.gov/whatsnew.htm.
Written comments may be mailed to the Division of Forestry, 2417 Tongass Avenue, Suite 213, Ketchikan, AK 99901, submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or through the online comment form on the SESF Planning webpage at http://forestry.alaska.gov/stateforests.htm#sesf.