State publishes new land use plan for proposed 855-acre timber sale near Haines

The Baby Brown sale area. (Map courtesy state of Alaska Division of Forestry Haines Office)

The largest potential timber sale in the Haines State Forest in decades was put on hold this summer.

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The decision from the Department of Natural Resources was made in response to a successful appeal of the forest land use plan for the 855-acre sale.

Now, the Division of Forestry has put forward a new plan.

The Baby Brown Timber Sale, about 35 miles northwest of Haines, offers up 20 million board feet of old-growth spruce and hemlock.

Astoria Forest Products offered $270,000 for the timber last year. They were the only bidder.

But the sale hasn’t gone forward.

DNR Commissioner Andrew Mack canceled the deal as it was being offered, because Lynn Canal Conservation successfully appealed the state’s forest land use plan. The original plan was only for a portion of the sale.

Lynn Canal Conservation said it shouldn’t have gone out to bid until plans were complete for the entire area.

Haines Forester Greg Palmieri said that’s the main difference between the new document and the old one.

“This plan takes into account the entire sale offering, which is 11 harvest units,” Palmieri said. “The first forest land use plan only offered a harvest plan that applied to the first two units that were going to be for the sale.”

Palmieri explains why only a portion of the potential sale was addressed the first time around.

“I was directed to make the most effective use of the timber sale offering as I possibly could initially, by creating a forest land use plan for two units to start with that could be prepared for that operational season, which would have been this past summer, had that gone through,” Palmieri said.

After the successful appeal, Palmieri went back and wrote up a plan for the entire sale.

“So I’m hoping that’s going to lead to a successful discussion and moving forward with the sale,” Palmieri said.

But Lynn Canal Conservation president Eric Holle said the overarching environmental concerns haven’t been alleviated.

“We’re not really any happier with the land use plan,” Holle said. “It dotted a few I’s and crossed some T’s. But the real issues remain the same.”

Holle sees a fundamental flaw with the sale.

“The big issue is that clear-cutting old growth forest in these large industrial-scale cuts is really from the dark ages of forestry,” Holle said. “Most places around the world that still have old growth do not do that.”

Holle points to some positive aspects of the plan.

“I should say, it’s encouraging to see some mention of the hydrologic impacts, and the impacts to cavity nesting birds, for example,” Holle said. “But the use of partial cuts and shelterwood cuts, and so forth, is not convincing. The same old problems are going to remain.”

Though he can’t say for sure, Holle doesn’t think Lynn Canal Conservation will appeal the sale again. But he remains concerned about potential environmental impacts.

“Really, they’re going to be removing 855 acres of old growth trees near the Klehini River, which is a prime salmon stream. And there’s not a whole lot we can do about that,” Holle said.

Forestry is accepting public comments on the current forest land use plan until Dec. 11. You can link to the full document here.