The Baby Brown timber sale is the largest piece of the Haines State Forest to be offered up for harvest in more than 20 years. Last year, the state canceled a deal with the single bidder after Haines’ Lynn Canal Conservation pointed out a procedural flaw in the sale process.

Now, that ‘s fixed — and the state is getting ready to put the timber back out to bid.

 The sale of an 855-acre stand of hemlock and spruce north of Haines was canceled last year when Lynn Canal Conservation (LCC) successfully challenged the Department of Natural Resource’s procedure in preparing the sale: they didn’t adopt a complete land use plan for the area.

Greg Palmieri works for the Department of Natural Resources as Haines’ forester.

“It was a process question that LCC raised. They said that before you can sell the sale, you need to do the forest land use plan for the entire sale. In our best interest finding—”  the original document that says, hey, the state is going to sell this timber “—we outlined a process that said essentially the same thing.”

Every state timber sale requires a Forest Land Use Plan detailing how an area will be logged. It includes the method and pattern of tree cutting, along with requirements for road building, planting new trees, erosion control, and more.

Lynn Canal Conservation argued the state got ahead of themselves: they put Baby Brown up for sale with a partial land use plan that covered just 137 acres, less than 20% of the total.

Palmieri says the rest of plan was on its way. But in order to complete it, he had to do boots-on-the-ground analysis of the forest — in summer. The new owners of the timber had to wait for that, and wouldn’t start making a return on their investment for another year.

But two subsections had been assessed a decade ago: they were ready for work.

“We offered it to give the operator an opportunity to get started on the sale,” Palmieri says. “Once they purchased the contract, we didn’t think it was appropriate to make them wait over a year.” 

But after reviewing the conservation group’s complaint, the Commissioner of Natural Resources agreed with them. The Department had promised a full plan before the sale.

The state canceled their $270,000 deal with Astoria Forest Products for the timber. They put Baby Brown on pause until there was a complete forest land use plan.

That plan was finished in November.

According to Greg Palmieri, the plan offers a mix of harvest options, from clear-cut to individual tree removal for about 20 million board feet. It’s the largest sale in the Haines area for more than 20 years, and the largest parcel of state forest for sale anywhere — but it’s not exactly premium timber.

“This stand is a real mature stand. As far as quality goes, this is essentially a chip sale,” Palmieri says.

About three-quarters of the sale is old growth. Those trees were at their peak a century ago. Now, 200 years old, they’ve lost resilience and resistance to disease.

 “As we get older, we succumb to various different elements that weaken us. We’re not any different than a tree in that case.” 

The full land use plan kicked off a required month of public comment. Lynn Canal Conservation submitted one. Eric Holle is their executive director.

“It’s a particular shame to be following a policy that was created when there was a mill in town,” he says. “There’s no longer a mill here so really the annual allowable cut doesn’t make sense anymore.”

The Department said they’d already addressed LCC’s concerns during their previous appeal to stop the sale.

“There’s some interest for the wood that’s available in the Haines State Forest,” Greg Palmieri says. “So that’s the direction we’re working with: support economic development in the communities that are surrounded by state resources, in the most responsible manner that we possibly can.” 

Holle doesn’t necessarily disagree with that goal — just the method.  

“What we really need around here is better access for the local, small-time operators,” he says. “And to forget about these big sales that are primarily designed for export.”

The state has adopted the final version of the land use plan. The biggest change? It includes all 855-acres.

Anyone who commented on the draft can appeal the plan until February 5. Holle says it’s doubtful Lynn Canal Conservation will.

If there aren’t any appeals, the state will put the timber out for bid, again.

Palmieri says he doesn’t know if the original buyers will give the deal a second chance.