Legislators representing Haines aren’t giving up yet on restoring some funding for the Haines State Forestry office, which employs two foresters. But the Director of Forestry says the best outcome he sees is keeping just one seasonal position in town.
When Rep. Sam Kito III visited Haines on April 3rd, he talked to Roy Josephson, one of two local foresters who are at risk of losing their jobs with proposed state budget cuts.
“I’m going to keep working to make sure that it doesn’t happen,” Kito said. “Of course I can’t guarantee anything, but it’s one of those things where a job lost in Haines is like 100 jobs being lost in Anchorage.”
On the same day that Kito was in Haines, Rep. Dennis Egan was in Juneau, on the Senate Floor. He introduced an amendment to the state operating budget that would restore funding for one of the Haines forester positions.
“This amendment is a small amendment,” said Egan. “But it makes a big difference in my district. We’d have no boots on the ground…The Haines State Forest is a model of multiple use. We should hold it up as the right way to manage a whole lot of Alaska’s lands.”
But the amendment didn’t pass. Five senators voted for it, 15 were against it.
And at the end of the day, the Senate passed a budget proposal that kept in the dramatic cuts to the State Division of Forestry which the House originally proposed.
“We’re actually going to be laying off close to 35, 36 employees division-wide and unfortunately Haines [has] two of those positions,” said Chris Maisch, director of the DNR Division of Forestry.
He says he’s looking ‘at all the corners’ of the division for pockets of money to move to Haines.
“We realize we need at least a position in Haines, even though it might have to be a seasonal position,” he said. “The problem is we don’t have a lot of actual funds. You know, I’m pretty confident we can probably pull a rabbit out of the hat and figure out a seasonal position.”
Maisch says that seasonal position would be for about six or eight months out of the year. He says scraping together money for one full-time position is not likely, and it’s especially unlikely for both of the forester positions.
“Yeah, right now what we’re looking at is trying to retain one seasonal position,” he said.
Maisch says Haines is one of the communities that will be hardest hit by the forestry cuts since it basically zeroes out the entire local forest management. Without a Haines forester, timber sales and other forestry duties would need to be remotely managed.
“We can do some of that oversight from afar, but that’s not the best way to do that,” Maisch said. “But we can make it work if we have to do it from either Ketchikan or Juneau.”
Maisch says Haines has been one of the most vocal communities in expressing concern about forestry cuts. But with the kind of funding shortfall he’s facing, he doesn’t think there is much else that can be done, except trying for the seasonal position.
Sen. Egan’s legislative staff say the senator plans to keep pushing for reallocation of funds to Haines. Kito is on the same page.
“My goal will be to work with DNR to make sure we have people on the ground in Haines where we have a forest,” Kito said. “Where we are touching that forest, we need to have people on the ground, I’ll try to work with department to make sure they find ways in the funding they have to make that happen.”
Maisch says throughout the budget process, he’s kept in touch with the two Haines foresters who could lose their jobs. He knows losing just one job is significant for a small community like Haines.
“So we feel it, we understand and we’re trying to be empathetic about this and as smart as we can about where have to take reductions, but those aren’t easy decisions.”