The Haines State Forestry office is set to temporarily close this winter, sometime between November and February. Earlier this year, the state legislature zeroed out funding for the Haines office, and one forester lost his job. The division scraped money together to keep one local forester in Haines, but that funding is uncertain and doesn’t cover a full year salary.
Scott Rossman is sawing and hauling Sitka spruce logs on a rainy morning. Rossman is owner and operator of the Stump Company, and he’s worked in the timber industry here for 27 years. He makes firewood, supplies saw logs to local mills, and logs home-building timber.
“Mostly just stuff to do with trees, all from the state forest almost exclusively,” Rossman said.
There are half a dozen local timber operators, which forester Greg Palmieri says make up most of the market here.
“That’s been the case, over the last dozen years or so we’ve sold all entirely our timber to local operators,” Palmieri said.
In the current budget situation, the revenue from local operators might not be enough to keep the Haines forestry office alive.
“You know that’s the point that we’re at in the division; the offices that generate the revenue are the offices that are gonna get the staffing,” said State Forestry Director Chris Maisch. “[Haines] doesn’t really register very well on that funding piece. Compared to some of the other offices in Southeast, especially the Ketchikan office, it’s not even in the ballpark.”
“That’s horse***t,” said Scott Rossman. “When I buy this [timber sale] up at 39 mile, I’ll have spent about $20,000 this year so far, paying the state for trees. In Ketchikan, they’re putting them on a ship and they’re going to China and they’re selling big sales, and they say $400,000 they generate down there. Well, my $20,000 somehow generated who knows how many worth of houses. There’s value to that, versus sticking it on a boat down there.”
When Palmieri spoke to KHNS in September, he said the financial situation for the Haines office is ‘tenuous.’
“I have some good days and some bad days I guess,” he said. “The uncertainty, I have to let that go on a personal level.”
Palmieri doesn’t know if he’ll be working next month, or in six months, or a year. But Maisch says one thing they do know is it’s not possible to fund the state forester position in Haines this winter, although he doesn’t have set dates for when the closure will happen.
Rossman is trying to prepare for this. He has a timber purchase at 39 mile he plans to take care of before Palmieri leaves. That should get his business through the winter.
“My fear is, when February rolls around, we’re right in the middle of budget battles in Juneau again,” Rossman said. “And I can see somebody going, ‘well there’s nobody in Haines right now, what do we need to put anybody back there for? Don’t rehire them.'”
“The pressure is definitely for continued cuts throughout the department,” Maisch said. “It just remains to be seen how any of those cuts might affect our division and the Haines office.”
Maisch says he’ll try to keep the position funded at about eight months of the year. He says one thing that would support keeping staff in the Haines office is the proposed Baby Brown timber sale. That 855-acre sale would be the largest in the Haines State forest in decades. But Rossman wishes the people making budget decisions saw the value of smaller sales from local operators.
“Up the food chain, we mean nothing. Nothing,” Rossman said. “There’s no value whatsoever to what we do to them.”
During the four or so months without any staff at the Haines office, Maisch says forestry matters will be managed from Juneau and Ketchikan.
You know, ideally it would be with a forester in Haines doing that, but I’ve not been allocated the resources for that to occur,” Maisch said. “So I’ve gotta do the best I can with the resources I’ve been allocated.”
Rossman says the uncertainty around the local forestry office is something that worries him on a near-daily basis. He doesn’t know how his business will be affected if the state cuts Palmieri’s job in the next budget cycle. For now, Rossman will keep making firewood to heat homes for the winter, and hope Palmieri is back in the chair at the forestry office come spring.