Two forester jobs in Haines and two in Ketchikan are wiped out in the state budget approved by the legislature earlier this week. Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed changes to that budget would add some money back into the Department of Natural Resources, but they wouldn’t bring back Southeast forester jobs. However, the two-person Haines State Forest office won’t be completely lost.
Budget reductions will likely force Director of Forestry Chris Maisch to cut 25 jobs and 10 internships around the state.
“It’s been probably my biggest professional challenge as a manager and as a forester,” Maisch said. “And I’ve been doing this type of work for over 33 years.”
In Haines, the two foresters make up the entire local office. They manage timber sales, maintain access roads, take charge of fire prevention. Losing both of those jobs would leave Haines State Forest management to someone in Juneau or Ketchikan.
“We know the community depends on a lot on the access, the firewood and the opportunity to have some economic development associated with the forest,” Maisch said. “We felt it was important to support residents in the community of Haines.”
Maisch says, out of all the towns and cities that are losing forestry staff, Haines has been the most outspoken.
“I want people to know that we were listening and paying attention to that,” he said. “It does mean that we dug a little deeper to try and improve the situation.”
Maisch didn’t want to leave Haines completely unmanned. So, DNR Forestry reallocated $106,000 to fund a seasonal, 9-month forester job in Haines. That money pays for salary and benefits as well as the office, utilities, fuel and a vehicle.
Along with losing about one and a third employees in Haines, starting in July, Ketchikan will lose two foresters. That downsizes their office to four – three foresters and one administrator.
“So we will obviously not have as much manpower as we once had to do forest management activity across Southeast Alaska,” Maisch said. “We will have enough to continue the program, but the remaining staff will be stretched thinner and have to travel more to do the work that needs to be completed across Southeast.”
It’s too soon to say whether one of the current Haines foresters will move into the seasonal job come July. Roy Josephson and Greg Palmieri more than 30 years of experience combined managing the forest in Haines.
Maisch thinks the seasonal position in Haines is sustainable. He says revenue from big timber sales like the 800-acre proposed Baby Brown sale would help, but it’s not necessary to keep the position.
However, if the state makes more cuts to DNR Forestry in coming years, Maisch says there are no guarantees.