The Baby Brown sale area.

The Baby Brown sale area.

The largest timber sale in the Haines State Forest in decades is facing another challenge. A local conservation group is appealing the Division of Forestry’s land use plan for a portion of the 855-acre sale. The group says the process Forestry followed violates regulations and degrades public accountability.

The Baby Brown Timber Sale has gone through about two years of planning and public input, including multiple appeals. The sale encompasses 855 acres of old growth spruce and hemlock between Jarvis and Porcupine Creeks, about 35 miles northwest of Haines. The harvest would bring a major sale to what officials say is an underutilized forest.

“As far as I can see, there is no local benefit whatsoever to a sale like this going forward,” said Eric Holle, president of Lynn Canal Conservation.

LCC was one of three conservation groups that appealed the Baby Brown final best interest finding in 2015. But the Department of Natural Resources Commissioner denied the appeal, and harvest plans moved forward.

In December of 2016, a bidder was chosen. Astoria Forest Products out of Oregon offered about $270,000 for the 20 million board feet. It was the only bid.

But LCC saw a flaw in how Forestry went about the final hurdle in its timber sale process.

“The state has to follow certain procedures and they can’t sign a contract until a forest land use plan is done for the entire sale,” Holle said. “And they’ve only done that for a portion of the sale.”

Forest land use plans are site-specific guidelines for a harvest, including the location, harvest methods, and mitigation measures. The land use plans give state agencies, members of the public and other stakeholders a chance to comment on the details.

Baby Brown’s harvest details have not yet been determined for the entire area. Of the 855-acre sale, Forestry has so far adopted a land use plan for only 137 acres. LCC’s argument is that Baby Brown should not have gone to bid prior to completing a land use plan for the entire area.

Read the appeal here: LCC FLUP Appeal

So, why did Forestry decide to create land use plans piecemeal?

Forestry Director Chris Maisch said by email that for large-volume sales like Baby Brown, it is impractical to complete land use plans for the entire thing at once. He says sales like these often take place over a number of years, and it’s better to create land use plans closer to when the timber will actually be harvested.

Haines Forester Greg Palmieri says breaking the harvest plans up into smaller pieces could make it more digestible for the public.

“You could almost say this is beneficial to the review process,” Palmieri said. “They don’t have to look at the entire thing. You can say, ‘here we have this concern and here we don’t.’ Therefore you get a more beneficial look, you get a more critical look at the sale overall.”

The current land use plan deals with two parcels that total 137 acres adjacent to Glacier Creek. Palmieri says these units were the easiest to develop plans for because they had been put up for sale in 2006. Therefore, the area had already been through the public vetting process.

The two parcels included in the completed forest land use plan.

The two parcels included in the completed forest land use plan.

“So this would allow an operator to then begin harvest on the Baby Brown timber sale in the first operating season,” Palmieri said.

The operator will not be able to harvest the other parcels of the Baby Brown sale until land use plans for those areas have been developed.

The decision about whether that process is correct is now in the hands of the DNR Commissioner.

Holle says LCC’s main concern is the impact of widespread old-growth harvest on watersheds and wildlife. But he says LCC exhausted that argument in its unsuccessful appeal of the final best interest finding. He says now it seems the best option to try to stop the sale is this procedural challenge.

The appeal has delayed the timber sale contract with Astoria Forest Products. Palmieri says he is waiting to finalize the contract until the commissioner responds to the appeal.