About two years after funding for the Haines State Forestry office was zeroed out in the state budget, there’s some hope that money for one seasonal forester may be restored. The House Finance Committee Thursday voted to add about $100,000 for a nine-month forester position into its operating budget bill.
The amendment made it into the House Finance Committee with the help of two Southeast representatives whose districts do not include Haines: Justin Parish and Dan Ortiz.
“I just think it was a mistake to cut that position,” said Parish.
The amendment originated with the freshman Democrat from Juneau. Parish sits on the Finance subcommittee that deals with the Department of Natural Resources budget. He said during the subcommittee process, he learned that the Haines forestry office was hanging by a thread.
“I was just shocked that in an area where we’ve made such important timber sales, we’ve eliminated the position of the person who would be managing those sales,” Parish said.
Since funding for two Haines forester jobs was zeroed out in 2015, the Division of Forestry has scrapped together money from other areas to pay for one seasonal forester, Greg Palmieri. Palmieri has been in the job more than 20 years. He spoke with KHNS in 2015 about coping with the uncertainty.
“I have to have the ability to have pride in the job I do and to let some things go is difficult,” Palmieri said. “To let things fall down around you and have the public lose services as a result of that is not something I can accept.”
If Palmieri’s job were to disappear, Haines would be left without local forestry management in the midst of some major developments. The largest timber sale in the Haines State Forest in a generation is moving towards harvest. The Baby Brown sale totals 855 acres of old-growth spruce and hemlock. In the same area, Constantine Metal Resources is ramping up exploration for a potential mine.
“While we do need to contain our costs, sometimes our reductions go too far,” said Rep. Ortiz, an Independent from Ketchikan. “And they end up being counterproductive to the overall good of the economy.”
Ortiz carried Parish’s proposal into the House Finance Committee. This week, the committee has combed through 100 pages of proposed changes to its operating budget bill.
“This amendment promotes economic opportunity in a time when our state is seeing a decline in economic opportunity,” Ortiz said.
The proposal to spend $102,000 from the general fund came up in the middle of hundreds of amendments aimed at slashing spending.
“This may be the right decision,” said Anchorage Republican Lance Pruitt. “If we had money.”
Pruitt said he might have supported the amendment, if the committee had accepted more of the previous budget-cutting proposals. Fairbanks Republican Steve Thompson said the same thing.
“There’s been hundreds of possibilities to reduce spending that would’ve covered this, and we haven’t done it,” said Thompson. “We’re sitting here for days without trying to address – OK we do need this, let’s offset it with a reduction over here. I understand the position could make the state money probably. But at the same time, there’s no offset, I can’t support it.”
But the representatives in Pruitt and Thompson’s corner were in the minority. The amendment passed 7-4.
That’s one step toward restoring funding to the Haines forestry office. But the finance committee budget bill still needs to be passed by the full House, sent to the Senate and then approved by both chambers.
Note: The $102,000 would not only cover the nine-month forester salary, but also travel, office rent, a vehicle, and utilities, according to Division of Forestry Director Chris Maisch.