A Bill in the Alaska Senate would convert over seven-hundred and sixty-thousand acres into a Susitna State Forest. Senate Bill 159, sponsored by Linda Menard, would reclassify a collection of 33 parcels spread across a wide area of the middle and upper susitna valley as state forest. Mat Su Area Forester Ken Bullman attended Monday Night’s Talkeetna Community Council to describe the area the forest would encompass and answer questions from the Council Board.
The land that has been included in the proposed State Forest has already been classified for forestry uses, Bullman says, but by turning it into a State Forest, the land would be permanently preserved for multiple uses, such as commercial timber sales and personal-use firewood harvesting. Increased access to the forest would open it up to other uses as well, including recreation. The inclusion of the parcels into a state forest would let the Division of Forestry develop long-range management plan for rotating wood harvests, and make it more stable for the state to put access roads into the forest, knowing that future Area Plans wouldn’t re-designate the lands for other purposes, such as settlement, agricultural, or wildlife habitat.
Bullman spoke to the Council about the nature of much of the forest, saying a catastrophic event likely happened 130 years ago, because that is the age of most of the oldest trees. Birch trees are at their prime up to 80 years old, Bullman says, and as the trees age, they become more brittle, frequently snapping off at the top, and rotting away on the inside. Managing the forest with rotating lumber harvests would lead to a more diverse range of tree ages, Bullman says. He added that variety of wildlife, such as moose and rough-grouse prefer habitat with trees at early-stages, from saplings to 10-years.
Senate Bill 159 is currently making its way through two committees, and will go next to a senate up or down vote, where if passed it would head to the house. If it gets the governor’s signature, Bullman says the Division of Forestry would develop a new management guidelines cover Timber sales, Access, and overall forest management. The area is currently covered by the Susitna Forestry Guidelines, which have been in place since 1991. Council Member Whitney Wolf asked if Senate Bill 159 fails, would the Division of Forestry consider re-writing the Forestry Guidelines, to which Bullman responded they would likely try for another bill for the state forest.
One member of the audience questioned whether converting the lands into a state forest was a move to open up the lands west of the Big Susitna River to further development, when many residents like it undeveloped as it is. Bullman said that most of the decisions concerning the forest management, including timber sales, would be open to public comment.