Alaska Department of Natural Resources Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels visited Haines this week to learn more about forestry, parks, and mining issues in the area. Fogels’ trip comes about a month after one of two Haines state foresters lost his job due to state budget cuts.
“The reduction in staff will undoubtedly impact the operations here, exactly how we’re not really sure yet,” Fogels said.
DNR lost state funding for 60 positions in the last round of state budget cuts. Funding for both Haines forester jobs – the entire local office – was zeroed out. But after hearing from many concerned citizens, DNR officials scraped together about $100,000 to keep one forester in Haines for at least 10 months of the year. That allowed forester Greg Palmieri to keep his job.
“It’s not hard funding so we can do it for the next year or so but quite frankly, it’s not hard funding, we don’t know how long we’ll be able to keep [funding that position,]” Fogels said. “And people have to understand there are likely to be more budget cuts next year and the year after.”
He says one area of Haines forestry management that could be affected is maintenance of roads through the state forest that are used for subsistence and recreation activities.
“There’s gonna be a reduction in money for the road maintenance. So it’s gonna be difficult to keep some of the road system open for use by the public. We’re gonna do the best we can, but there’s no question that we’re not going to be able to do as much as we did before.”
Fogels and Palmieri discussed possibilities for how to move forward with a smaller crew.
“One idea is to just look for synergies to get people to collaborate more and work together more in managing the lands here,” Fogels said. “We probably need to look at ways to generate more revenue for the state and for our programs.”
While Fogels was in Haines, he says he got to see in person the area of the proposed Baby Brown timber sale. That’s the largest potential timber sale in the Haines State Forest in more than 20 years. It encompasses 855 acres of old-growth spruce and hemlock along the Klehini River between Porcupine and Jarvis Creek.
In April, Haines-based Lynn Canal Conservation, along with Greepeace and Cascadia Wildlands filed an appeal of the proposed timber harvest. Fogels says DNR Commissioner Mark Myers is still deliberating on that appeal and that there is no deadline for Myers to make a decision. Fogels says the appeal decision is a ‘high priority.’
While the Haines forestry office is dealing with the loss of an employee, the local state parks office has a new ranger after a vacancy of a few months. Fogels met with Travis Russel during his visit as well.
“He’s very excited to be in Haines and he’s going to be an asset to the community,” Fogels said. “So I toured some of the park units and looked at some of the issues.”
One issue is congestion on the road to Chilkoot Lake, especially when bear-viewing is in full swing. Fogels says work to build improved parking areas along the corridor will hopefully start next summer.
Mine oversight is another issue under DNR’s purview. Fogels spent part of his time in Haines learning about Constantine Metal Resources’ Palmer Project exploration.
“It’s still a long ways down the road before permitting decisions are made, whether to permit something or not,” Fogels said. “They still have a lot of work to do. But we have a state agency team already set up to look at that site, all the data that they’re collecting.”
Fogels says his visit to Haines reinforced his understanding of the impact that DNR has on the community. He says he hopes to find ways to work with towns to help economies and quality of life despite shrinking budgets.