The University of Alaska on Monday, April 9 announced they are extending the deadline for comment on a controversial timber sale near Haines and Klukwan by 10 more days, until May 7.
The extension for comment on the proposed 13,000-acre timber sale on university lands comes after a well-attended special Assembly meeting on Tuesday, April 3 which resulted in requests for more time from the borough and Klukwan Tribal Council.
Haines Borough Assembly Chambers were packed Tuesday evening for the special meeting to gather input on the largest proposed timber sale in the area in recent history. Many residents expressed concerns about a rushed timeline for the project.
“The beauty of the Chilkat Valley is why I live here and what brings tourists here,” Haines resident Thom Ely said.
Ely was one of several residents that said clearcutting and industrial scale logging would harm tourism.
“I have had a tourism business for 30 years. We run tours on the Haines Highway and one of these areas is right along the highway up in the upper Valley there,” Ely said.
The Borough should look into a land exchange with the University, Ely said, or a buyout of the timber rights.
Resident Haynes Tormey, said logging could bring much-needed jobs to the region and also be a part of the tourism economy.
“In Ketchikan, one of the main tourist attractions is the lumberjack show. Tourists don’t flee from timber and clearcutting, they’re interested in it. It is what makes Alaska, Alaska. We mine, we fish and we log,” Tormey said.
Tony Strong, a Tlingit man from Klukwan, said his community is very concerned that the proposed timber sale would worsen the situation of Chilkat River king and sockeye salmon, traditional foods for his people, and damage the overall ecology of the area.
“How often do we have to lose everything we have for a little bit of money, for a little bit of job for a few people? We cannot continue to do that,” Strong said. “I think we have to ask, figure out some way to make sure that we don’t lose all those resources—not just the timber but the value that comes with that, the inherent ecology.”
Klukwan Tribal Council President Kimberly Strong sent a note which was read aloud at the meeting, informing the borough that Klukwan was also requesting an extension of the comment period. Strong wrote that Klukwan objects to the sale due to lack of information.
Logging began in the Haines area in the late 1800s and grew in the 1900s with mills operating along the waterfront into the mid-20th century. While the last large mill closed here in the early ’80s, small-scale lumber operations continue to this day. But the local economy now relies mostly on tourism and fishing.
The University of Alaska is a land-grant university, which means that the federal government gave the state land to benefit the university. The acreage was originally selected by the state in 1954, prior to statehood and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and was eventually deeded to the University of Alaska in the ’80s.
On March 28, the university announced it was entering into a negotiated timber sale on 13,400 acres of that land scattered throughout the borough. The 10-year deal is estimated to produce 150 million board feet.
It comes on the heels of the university’s attempted 400-acre timber sale on the Chilkat Peninsula. No bids were received on that controversial proposal. UA says it will develop that land for a residential subdivision.
The most common refrain at Tuesday’s meeting was that Haines residents need more information about the university’s plans. Some felt the University was fast-tracking the project.
University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen recently said the university system cannot withstand continued budget cuts. The university’s annual budget has declined by more than $60 million since 2014. At Tuesday’s meeting, Kathleen Menke said she was alarmed by the lack of process.
“For the university to say that they are coming here on the 26th after the deadline for public comment is just not adequate public process,” Menke said.
The University had set the date of April 19, for public comment to be received and has now extended it until after a meeting with the Alaska Department of Forestry with representatives of the university and the public in Haines on April 26.
University officials say they recognize that extending the deadline for comments until after the scheduled open house meeting will allow more opportunity for the public to make informed comments on the project.
At Tuesday’s meeting, many said they worry about the University’s plan to award a contract so quickly, including John Norton.
“I’m not against the idea of logging, but what raised some level of concern for me was that idea, when I read that they were going to award the contract for this cut in July,” Norton said.
The University plans to award a contract for the timber sale by the end of July.