As state legislators continue working on the budget, more details of possible local effects are surfacing. The latest budget cuts under consideration by one House panel would chop 13 state forester jobs and close offices in Haines, Ketchikan and Juneau.
This week, a house finance committee is examining the Department of Natural Resources budget. The committee is considering reducing the timber sale program and closing offices in Southeast. Closing the Haines office would mean the eliminating the two forester positions here. But the cuts are still a long way off.
“I don’t know what the prospects are but certainly I’m concerned,” said Haines forester Roy Josephson. In addition to the 13 state forestry jobs, the cuts would nix 10 student intern positions, he says.
Josephson wrote a letter to the Haines borough manager and mayor saying the closure of the Haines office would have a wider impact than just the lost jobs.
It would mean timber and firewood sales would stop. Locally, that could impact at least a half dozen business owners, like firewood cutters. It may not affect residents who collect dead and down trees, if they can still access that lumber. Foresters also maintain roads through the state forest for wood gathering, berry picking, hunting, fishing and other recreation.
“We’re responsible for road maintenance so if the road washed out or if roads closed, someone would need to keep those open and we wouldn’t be here to do that,” Josephson said.
Josephson and fellow forester Greg Palmieri are also responsible for wildfire response in the Northern Lynn Canal.
“Most of that we do through cooperative agreements with the volunteer fire departments but we also do wild land red card fire training through the VFD’s for those fires that are off the road system.”
Josephson says that having a local forestry office allows Chilkat Valley residents to be directly involved with the management of the Haines State Forest.
“Most of Southeast is the Tongass and it’s managed by the federal government,” Josephsons aid. “So, this is more locally surrounded and locally ‘owned.’ It’s for the benefit of the people of the state not the people of the nation.”
The Haines forestry office has been in operation since the 1960s, Josephson says. He’s worked in the forestry department for 30 years and Palmieri for more than 20 years.
Haines Borough manager Dave Sosa says the borough is reaching out to legislators about the proposed cuts.
The operating budget is now being considered by the full House Finance Committee.