Earlier this year, Haines Foresters Greg Palmieri and Roy Josephson were told that they were at risk of losing the jobs they had devoted decades of their lives to.
A huge budget deficit prompted the Alaska legislature to zero out funding for the Haines State Forestry office. After an outcry from Haines residents and financial wrangling, the Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division was able to fund one ten-month forester. In July, Josephson lost his job, and Palmieri stayed on in the ten-month position.
“It’s a day to day thing,” Palmieri said. “I have some good days and some bad days, I guess. I try to stay focused on the things that are important in my life.”
For 20 years, Palmieri’s job as a forester has been more than ‘just a job.’ So the uncertainty that has come from the latest round of budget cuts has been difficult. He’s attached to his work, and to the long-term impacts that management of the forest will have on residents. But those kind of calculations didn’t seem to play a role in the state’s decision to shutter the local forestry office.
“Some of the justification the legislators put forth was based on monetary returns,” Palmieri said. “You know, how much money does this office generate to support the staff and the operations here? And that kind of question is simple when you just look at the numbers.”
Palmieri says, there are not enough timber sales in the Haines State Forest to pay for two local forester positions.
“From my perspective I’ve always felt like we do a service for the community and the state that goes beyond the dollar that we return to the state,” he said.
Back in the spring, when the legislature was deciding where to cut expenses, Palmieri says he tried to make it clear to his supervisors and the DNR Commissioner that the Haines forestry office plays an important role. But it was the response from the community that struck him and his superiors.
“They heard more from the people of the community of Haines than any other community in the state of Alaska. And that meant a lot to me.”
Palmieri says in the past two months since the office downsized, he’s tried to figure out how to prioritize.
“I’m being told things like ‘you can’t do it all, you have to prioritize and let some things go.’ And I understand that perspective, but I have to have pride in the job that I do. And to let some things go is difficult. To let things fall down around you and let the public lose services is not something I can accept. It’s not how I want to go about my job.”
One public service that could be impacted is access to roads in the state forest. The state forestry division is in charge of maintaining 65 miles of harvest roads in the Haines State Forest. Residents use the roads for recreation and subsistence activities. Tour operators like heli-skiing companies use the roads for business.
But Palmieri says his budget for road maintenance is gone. And his time is more limited. He says some of the roads will have to close.
Palmieri says local loggers could also be affected by the reduced budget and staff in the Haines office. He says in the past dozen years, all of the timber sales in the Haines State Forest have gone to local operators.
If those local operators want to harvest timber in November, December and January, it won’t be simple. Right now, Palmieri has been told that his position will not be funded for those three months.
The limits on road maintenance and timber sale availability hinder people’s access, which Palmieri is not happy about.
“That’s the whole idea, is to make as much of the state forest as accessible as we can to the majority of people. It is a resource that belongs to the people and they should have the ability to access it.”
The degree to which people will be able to access the forest could become even more limited, because Palmieri’s 10 month job does not have stable funding. DNR’s Deputy Commissioner said during a recent visit to Haines that they are likely to get more state funding cuts in the next legislative session. Palmieri says the search for a new job that he started earlier this year has not been put entirely on hold
But he hopes he can stay and continue managing the forest in way that will make it a viable resource for future generations.
“I chose to work for state of Alaska because I wanted to work for the people and helping manage those resources. And I always wanted to do that ever since I studied forestry in Alaska. That was where I wanted to go. Because I don’t think I could’ve done the kind of work that we have done in the last 20 years anywhere else.”