KETCHIKAN (AP) The U.S. Forest Service will use helicopters to reach remote wilderness areas and monitor forest health, according to the regional forester.
Helicopters landings normally are banned in the wilderness areas.
Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor announced he would allow helicopters in 56 wilderness plots a year for safety reasons.
''My decision is based on my concern for the safety of Forest Service crews while they inventory extremely remote and difficult-to-access areas,'' Bschor said. ''I believe this decision provides an appropriate balance between employee safety and protection of the wilderness.''
The Forest Service, with the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, is starting a congressionally mandated program to inventory and analyze national forest wilderness. The program will last 10 years and provide baseline information about forest health, such as the introduction of invasive plants and the effects of air quality changes.
The survey calls for monitoring up to 93 plots a year. Bschor's decision will allow Forest Service survey crews to get to 56 wilderness plots a year by helicopter. Another 37 plots a year can be reached safely on foot.
The decision includes restrictions to protect mountain goats and other animals.
Flight paths will avoid known wilderness users and areas where users are known to visit frequently.
The Forest Service manages 7.5 million acres of wilderness in Alaska. The Tongass National Forest has 19 wilderness areas. The Chugach National Forest has a wilderness study area. People in Alaska can access wilderness by motorboat or airplane under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
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