Commentary

Small community of Whale Pass sees ‘shut up and take it’ attitude in timber sale bill

July 12, 2022 11:34 am
A tree in Whale Pass, Alaska, marked for a state timber sale is near a house. (Photo by Katie Rooks)

A tree in Whale Pass, Alaska, marked for a state timber sale is near a house. (Photo by Katie Rooks)

During the most recent legislative session in Alaska, the current administration proposed House Bill 98/Senate Bill 85 — a bill concerning how timber sales are conducted in the state. One of the components of the bill was the elimination of an opportunity to appeal by the public. During the hearings regarding the bill, Division of Forestry Director Helge Eng emphasized that this change wouldn’t diminish the role of the public with regard to state timber sales because the state works so hard to be responsive to people who express concerns.

The Friends of Whale Pass see it differently. The Friends of Whale Pass is a group of homeowners and residents of the town of Whale Pass, located on the north end of Prince of Wales Island. 

In fact, we see the state’s response to our numerous concerns with the 300-acre old-growth clearcut being planned within our town as “shut up and take it.” When the state has responded to the 11 citizens of Whale Pass and the entire City Council (seven individuals) who commented on the 2021 Five-Year Schedule of Timber Sales  for the southern Southeast area (which includes all of Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands), its responses have been vague at best. 

Among the concerns those citizens listed were: impacts on recreation and tourism, impacts on fish streams, property values, proximity to residential areas, erosion, impacts on water quality, documented water rights, wildlife habitat, scenery and aesthetics, wind damage, mudslides, traffic, noise and safety, lack of local economic benefit, harvest method, and other issues. Some of us also have concerns about the loss of our remaining old-growth forest, impacting temperatures in the immediate area and the impact on carbon dioxide absorption. 

The state released its preliminary finding with an associated public comment period during February of 2022 — a time when many Whale Pass residents weren’t around. Most folks don’t understand the need to keep commenting either, something the state hasn’t helped explain or advertise.

Tourism and recreation are Whale Pass’s major industries and keep our tiny town alive. We know that the planned clearcut will kill that industry because the first thing lodge visitors will see flying over is the clearcuts. Road system visitors will see the same thing. It will also destroy the area near 108 Creek which, because the salmon runs have already been severely diminished in the Neck Lake area,  is the alternative most locals turn to for subsistence salmon. We see most summer visitors traveling through Whale Pass with kayaks and canoes. There will be nothing left to view from the water near town but clearcuts.

Another major concern we have is that a large section of the planned clearcut lies immediately above numerous private residences. We have learned in the past that the state’s supposed 100-foot buffer does not play out on the ground, and the slopes above these homes are steep. Any removal of tree root systems on shallow and wet soil above these homes increases the danger of erosion and mudslides, especially during rainy periods.

Yet the state has justified its intent to log this area by stating that it is in the best economic interests of the state, while not disputing that the likely benefit for Whale Pass is very low, and short-term at best. We believe most of the profit from this sale will end up with non-local logging outfits and that the trees will be shipped to foreign countries, while our town suffers. Once logging crew lodging rentals stop, no summer seasonal rentals will replace them.

The state won’t even consider moderating its plan to leave trees behind residences, heli-log sensitive portions of the sale, or leave trees that are low value in place. A lot of the old-growth in the sale has high levels of defects. It seems the State is just logging because they can, with no regard for what it will do to our town, our wildlife habitat, our fish streams, and our homes.

The Friends of Whale Pass would like the State of Alaska to care more about the people and places it hurts with its plans. We aren’t opposed to responsible forest management, including logging.

This isn’t it.

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Jimmy Greely
Jimmy Greely

Jimmy Greely is a spokesperson for Friends of Whale Pass, a group of homeowners and residents of the town of Whale Pass, located on the north end of Prince of Wales Island. He lives in Whale Pass.

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