The state of Alaska this month is taking public comment on a draft plan for managing the newly created 48-thousand acre Southeast state forest.

It’s the third state forest in Alaska and much smaller than the other two state forests in the Tanana Valley and near Haines. The Southeast forest lands were set aside by the state legislature in 2010 and acreage was added the following year.

Overall the lands total over 48-thousand acres in 33 units on 12 different islands and the mainland near Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island. The lands are primarily designated for timber sales.

“The intent for these units is to have it managed as a working forest that has again the primary purpose will be timber production but again under the state constitution that will be timber production on a sustainable basis,” said Jim Schwarber, a forest planner with the state’s Division of Forestry.

KFSK file photo

KFSK file photo

The units range from the smallest parcel, 380 acres, to the largest around five thousand acres. The draft plan outlines how the lands will be managed, specifying the public lands remain open for hunting and other recreational use. Closures are possible during timber harvest on the units.

Schwarber characterized the forest lands as a mix of old growth and second growth timber. “Our state timber program in southern Southeast has been very important for helping to provide timber to keep the remaining mills open at Viking Mill for example,” Schwarber said. “Our timber sales have been very helpful when they’ve had trouble getting timber from federal timber sales off the Tongass.”

Besides ongoing logging operations on the Tongass National Forest, the state has been selling timber from other lands in Southeast outside the Southeast forest. There are also sales planned on University lands and Alaska Mental Health Trust property in the region.

The draft Southeast forest plan says clear-cut logging is the primary method of harvest that will be used. It outlines guidelines for building new roads to access timber. And it sets out goals for timber harvest impacts on water quality, fish and wildlife habitat and known historic sites. The plan also allows personal use firewood cutting on the forest lands with a permit through the Division of Forestry.

Public comment on the plan is open until 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 30th.

“At this point I just encourage the public to review the plan if they use any of these areas that are identified on the maps on our web pages,” Schwarber said. “Make sure that if we’ve overlooked something that we enjoy hearing from them and being able to incorporate their knowledge into this planning process as we move through the review draft.”

The plan is available along with maps of the various parcels on the Division of Forestry webpage. The state also will hold public meetings in five Southeast communities. Hearings will be in Ketchikan April 14 6-7:45 p.m. at the public library, in Petersburg April 15 6-8 p.m. at the ANB Hall, in Wrangell April 22 6-8 p.m. at city hall, in Edna Bay April 23 6-8 p.m. at the Edna Bay school and in Coffman Cove April 24 6-8 p.m. at the Coffman Cove ferry terminal.