JUNEAU -- The Alaska Department of Forestry Thursday announced that budget cuts have forced the closure of its Haines office, responsible for managing the 286,000-acre Haines State Forest.
The closure of the office took local legislators by surprise.
"It just doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense to me," said Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau. "Here we have a working forest, multiple-use, proven regeneration, creating jobs, (and) we're going to shut the state forest office down for long periods of time."
But the Division of Forestry said the closure was forced by the state Legislature's budget cuts. The closure isn't permanent -- the one remaining part-time forester will open the office for two weeks in January to manage a scheduled timber sale, and local residents can contact the office then for firewood cutting, land access or other issues, or contact the division's Juneau office.
The office will reopen in the summer, when firefighting money will be available to pay for that portion of its work, said division spokesman Tim Mowry.
Last year the Haines office had two staffers there, said remaining forester Greg Palmieri, but one was laid off with the beginning of the new fiscal year in July.
"Back in the day, we had nine people working out of this office," Palmieri said.
State foresters have had an office in Haines since 1965, and Palmieri has worked there since 1995.
Haines resident Brenda Josephson said she's worried about access to the forest without local management.
"We've got 30 miles of roads on state forest, and that access they provide for berry picking, for recreation and for subsistence is very important to us," she said.
Josephson works for Haines-based Southeast Roadbuilders and is married to a Haines forester who retired after being laid off in June. She helped organize opposition to the office closure when it was proposed during last spring's legislative session.
Even though Forestry officials have said Haines State Forest roads will remain in place and culverts won't be pulled out, access concerns remain.
"The reality is roads close themselves, brush moves in and culverts fail," she said.
Mowry said that much of the work of the Haines office did will be the responsibility of other forestry staff in Southeast. Forester Joel Nudelman in Juneau will assist Haines until the local office reopens next summer, he said.