The University of Alaska is offering up 400 acres of its Haines-area land for timber harvest. The timing of the university’s decision was motivated by a conversation happening at the local level. The Haines Planning Commission is considering whether to restrict resource extraction in the Mud Bay area.
At a Sept. 14 University Board of Regents meetings, Director of Land Management Christine Klein said the university’s ability to monetize its Chilkat Peninsula land was under threat.
“The reason we’re bringing this to you now is that there have been increasing efforts to put restrictions on the property and the area in Haines that this land is located at,” Klein said.
The conversation Klein is referring to started back in May, when the Haines Planning Commission noticed an apparent oversight in the code governing the Mud Bay Rural Residential Zone. There is nothing there to restrict resource extraction in the generally quiet residential neighborhoods.
Since then, the commission has brainstormed what kind of rules to put in place for that area. The university and the Alaska Mental Health Trust, both major landowners on the peninsula, spoke out in opposition to any limitations.
University President James Johnsen wrote in a letter to Haines officials that revenue from land holdings is critical to UA’s trust programs, which fund student scholarships. University funding has plummeted by $61 million since 2014 in the wake of the state fiscal crisis.
At a meeting in June, planning commission chair Rob Goldberg said there was no rush to answer the Mud Bay resource extraction question.
“We’ve had this code in place for about 25 years and there hasn’t been any major resource extraction during that time,” Goldberg said. “And I haven’t seen a big rush for people to do it.”
Now there does seem to be a rush.
“If we don’t move forward with this, we may be in the situation of losing the ability to harvest the timber,” said University Land Management Director Klein at the Sept. 14 regents meeting. “And in doing so, we would also lose our ability to check and verify if there is any mineral potential.”
Haines Forester Greg Palmieri says this is the largest potential timber sale on the Chilkat Peninsula in decades.
“I’m not aware of any timber sales on the peninsula in the last 10 to 20 years that weren’t on private property or very small,” Palmieri said. “This doesn’t compare to anything in the last 10 to 20 years.”
The 400 acres make up a significant swath of the peninsula south of the Haines’ townsite. Dozens of residential properties neighbor the sale area, including Eric Holle’s home.
“It’s not something I’m gonna lose sleep over at the moment,” Holle said.
Holle has lived across Mud Bay for 29 years. He’s also the president of a local conservation group. But he’s not too worried about the timber sale because he doesn’t think the university will be able to make money from it.
“Once they go through and do a timber cruise on this, I think they will be quite surprised on the lack of valuable timber in this area,” Holle said.
Planning commission chair Goldberg lives out Mud Bay, and he also questions the profitability of the timber harvest. He says creating residential subdivisions would be a much more valuable use of the land.
As for how this development will factor into the commission’s conversation around Mud Bay resource extraction, Goldberg says he’s not sure.
“If we were playing a game, it would be like the university has just wiped all the pieces off the board and said ‘game over,'” Goldberg said.
The university will find out if there are interested buyers for this timber sale by the bid deadline on Oct. 23. That’s also the deadline for comments on the plan, which can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.