The Alaska Mental Health Trust is proposing a timber sale on up to 4,300 acres in the Shelter Cove area roughly 14 miles northeast of Ketchikan — and it’s on land the Mental Health Trust doesn’t yet own.
The sale would take place on land that the trust plans to acquire from the U.S. Forest Service as part of a 2017 deal. That land swap was the largest in the trust’s history.
Wyn Menefee directs the Mental Health Trust’s land office.
“The idea is that it’s an equal value land exchange,” Menefee said in a phone interview. “The equal value land exchange will be determined by an appraisal of all the properties — the final appraisal is being done now. So when that appraisal is complete, then we will determine how much land we’ll actually get as the final part of the exchange.”
Menefee said that by starting the process prior to actually receiving the land, the trust can ensure that logging can begin as soon as the swap is finalized.
He said one of the trust’s functions is to make money to finance mental health programs. And he predicts the sale will bring timber to market for Southeast Alaska’s logging industry.
“Our goal is to help the trust, but we need business partners in that to make that happen. So that’s why we’re very interested in making sure there’s enough timber on the market in the near term so that they can stay in business and buy more timber from us,” he said.
But not everyone’s on board.
“SEACC believes that the Mental Health Trust should wait until the land swap is finalized before taking the steps to initiate this timber sale,” Dan Cannon, Tongass Forest program manager the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said in a phone interview.
“And of course, SEACC stands against any industrial-scale, clear-cut logging of old growth, and this sale targets a significant amount of old growth, and SEACC will be doing anything we can to advocate for the protections of those of that old growth habitat,” Cannon continued.
Cannon says he hopes the Mental Health Trust will consider other ways to make money off its new acquisition. He suggests restoration or recreation projects. And he said industry figures have already pointed to the nearby South Revilla timber sale offered by the Forest Service as uneconomical.
And speaking of that nearby South Revilla project — Cannon also says offering timber sales so close to one another, even overlapping, makes it difficult for residents to keep up with projects that may hurt the lands they rely on for hunting and foraging.
“I would hope moving forward, they would be the these agencies would be coordinating to ensure a more transparent and fair public process that really lays out these potential impacts across land owners,” Cannon said.
Menefee says he can’t speak to the Forest Service’s plans for South Revilla, but he says the trust plans to run the timber sale in line with state and federal law.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” Menefee said. “We have an interest in maintaining these lands in perpetuity, so therefore, we won’t treat them bad. We want to make sure that they’re — we have good stewardship as we’re doing that timber sale. So we will have an environmentally responsible timber sale down there.”
Adjustments to the land swap deal are still pending, but Menefee says he expects it to be completed early next year.
The trust is currently seeking public comments on what’s called a “best interest decision” — that’s essentially a determination that selling timber would be good for the trust and its beneficiaries. Menefee says that if that’s upheld, the Mental Health Trust will seek proposals from logging companies to log up to 4,300 acres of old growth forest near Shelter Cove.
The deadline to comment is Thursday, October 8. Comments can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, by mail to Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office at 2600 Cordova Street, Suite 100, Anchorage, AK 99503 or by fax at (907) 269-8905.