The Baby Brown sale area.

The Baby Brown sale area.

Update: The proposed forest land use plan for the Baby Brown sale is online here. Public comments are due Jan. 5. 

The largest timber sale in the Haines State Forest in at least 20 years is out to bid. The State Department of Natural Resources is offering the 855-acre Baby Brown timber sale for a minimum price of $250,000. A local conservation group worries the extensive logging project could harm wildlife and tourism.

In the past 15 years, the Haines State Forest has been utilized mainly for small sales that go to local timber operators. Baby Brown is different. It is many times bigger and caters to an international market.

“The market for this sale is potentially two-fold,’ said forester Greg Palmieri. “One is a chip market and the second is a small, sawlog market. Both are on the Asian market.”

The sale area is about 35 miles up the Haines Highway. The 20 million board feet of spruce and hemlock are located between Porcupine and Jarvis Creeks.

The State of Alaska views the Haines State Forest as underutilized. Palmieri says less than a sixth of the 58 million allowable board feet has been harvested in the past decade. This 20 million board-foot sale would bring that number up significantly.

“The main focus [behind the sale] was to generate income for the state as it was spelled out in the best interest finding,” Palmieri said.

The State released a final best interest finding for Baby Brown in March of 2015, allowing the sale to go forward. But a month later, three conservation groups appealed that decision.

“The issues that we appealed basically remain the same,” said Eric Holle, the president of Lynn Canal Conservation. “Concerns about impacts to fisheries and wildlife. Also economic impact. The sale, at least part of the sale, would be visible from the Haines Highway, which is important to the local tourism economy.”

The appeal was ultimately denied by the DNR Commissioner last October. The conservation groups did not take their case to court.

Palmieri says he’s taking people’s concerns into account as he creates forest land use plans.

“It’s not gonna be 855 acres of clear-cut, which is something that I think people were concerned about seeing,” Palmieri said.

The land use plans are guidelines drawn up by Forestry that dictate the area, size, timing, and harvest methods for sections of the sale. Palmieri says the land use plans for the first two parcels should be available for public review and comment within days. The units make up a combined 137 acres of land on the east side of Glacier Creek. Parcels can’t be harvested until they have final land use plans.

“What I’ve tried to do is create a sale that balances out the economics with the public concerns,” Palmieri said.

He says he’s applying the same principles he’s used in small sales to this bigger one. That is, balancing clear-cutting with more selective harvesting.

The market for this timber is overseas. And none of the three interested bidders Palmieri has heard from are in Haines. But he does think this sale will have local benefits. For one, Baby Brown includes several miles of road construction. That opens up new areas for local loggers.

“We get a road system that accesses a portion of the timber in the Haines State Forest that wasn’t available to the small-scale operators before,” Palmieri said. “And this is a huge benefit to our small sale program in the long-term.”

But Holle thinks there’s a downside to new roads as well.

“Roads have similar impacts to fisheries and to particular species of wildlife as clear-cuts,” Holle said.

There’s some irony in the timing of this sale. The largest potential timber harvest in the Haines State Forest in years is going out to bid at the same time that the one remaining local forester job is hanging by a thread due to state budget cuts.

Chris Maisch is the director of the Division of Forestry. He says the future of Palmieri’s position is still up in the air. As to whether the Baby Brown sale would protect the job…

“I will say it certainly would help with revenue from the timber sale side of the division and that’s one of the factors we consider,” Maisch said. “So it will have an influence, but it’s not the only influence.”

Maisch says Palmieri’s job is funded until the end of this fiscal year. What happens after remains to be seen.

The bid period for the Baby Brown sale closes Dec. 15. If there is a successful bidder, the contract will be awarded immediately. Harvest could start as soon as next spring or summer, and the company would have five years to complete its work.

The public still has the opportunity to weigh in on the land use plans for each section of the harvest. Those will be posted on DNR’s public notice website.