Large-scale logging is out, and fish, wildlife and recreation are in as managers draft plans for national forest lands on the Kenai Peninsula.
The U.S. Forest Service has been working for several years to revise the 1984 management plan for Chugach National Forest, which spans 5.5 million acres from Cooper Landing to Seward, Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta.
It started with a list of 30 management alternatives, said Gary Lehnhausen, leader of the Chugach planning team. Following extensive public comment, it narrowed the list to seven. Now, planners are developing a map that represents the draft Forest Service preferred alternative. That is essentially a zoning map that defines possible uses.
"Most of the Kenai Peninsula is an area of active management," said Seward district ranger Mike Kania. "We have active management for fish and wildlife, recreation, forest health and beetles. Particularly recreation, fish and wildlife are emphasized."
The Seward district includes 900,000 acres of national forest land from Cooper Landing to Hope and Seward. The draft map designates most of that as "backcountry," Kania said. Allowed backcountry uses include mining, projects to benefit fish, wildlife and vegetation, and construction of cabins, trails and campgrounds. Banned are logging and construction of roads and utilities.
Most peninsula backcountry would remain open to snowmachines during winter and closed to ATVs during summer. To accommodate skiers and snowshoers, though, the Forest Service proposes expanding the 1,000-acre area now closed to snowmachines at Manitoba Mountain in Turnagain Pass. The new closed area would reach down the east side of the Seward Highway from Manitoba Mountain to Summit Lake.
"There are very few areas not affected by snowmachines," Kania said. "It's difficult to ski on multiple snowmachine ruts."
There are other concessions to skiers. The Forest Service would retain present rules that allow snowmachines on the Resurrection Pass Trail only from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15.
It proposes banning snowmachines after March 31 from an area by Lost Lake near Seward. Under present rules, snowmachines are allowed there from Dec. 1 to April 30.
"In the past, that area was popular for cross-country skiing," Kania said. "The skiers have been almost completely displaced by snowmachiners."
The Forest Service also proposes reserving several small areas by Bear Lake and near the Seward Y to develop cross-country ski trails. Even so, Kania said, the vast majority of the peninsula's national forest lands will remain open to snowmachines.
The draft plan proposes managing areas around the upper Russian River, Carter Lake and Trail Lakes for brown bears, and designates other areas for wildlife habitat. That is a matter of emphasis, Kania said. Logging or prescribed fire might still be allowed if wildlife habitat is improved.
The big timber sales once proposed near Hope and Kenai Lake are gone. Spruce bark beetles have so damaged the trees that there is little market for them now, Kania said. There is concern for the impact of logging roads on wildlife. So, the Forest Service plans small timber sales for house logs and firewood.
"We're looking at very minimal road construction, use of winter roads and small sales to get forest health back," Kania said. "We're looking at prescribed fires in areas not near the road for enhanced wildlife habitat and to try to reduce fire danger."
Kania said he foresees enlargement and modernization of Kenai Peninsula campgrounds, most of which were built in the 1960s. Many camping spaces are too small for big motor homes, he said. The restrooms are nearing the ends of their useful lives.
The Forest Service hopes to develop a whistle-stop campground along the Alaska Railroad between Moose Pass and Portage -- possible near Trail Glacier, Kania said. He has identified 76 miles of new hiking trails that could be built on the peninsula and found sites for five new recreational cabins.
He also foresees building wildlife viewing sites.
"We'd like to build a Dall sheep viewing site at Sunrise or West Juneau Road," Kania said. "We'd also like to build an eagle viewing area, perhaps at Cooper Creek. We could possibly build a moose and caribou viewing area out of Palmer Creek. Another idea is a beluga whale viewpoint along the Hope Highway."
Improvements such as campground expansions will require separate environmental assessments, Lehnhausen said. However, examining such possibilities is part of the overall planning process.
The draft plan recommends two peninsula rivers for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. There are three possible designations, Lehnhausen said. Wild rivers must be kept pristine. Minimal development is allowed along scenic rivers. Recreational rivers may be highly developed for recreation.
The draft plan recommends Sixmile Creek as a recreational river and the north fork of Snow River as a scenic river. Those designations would require acts of Congress.
A map of the draft Chugach plan is posted at www.fs.fed.us/r10/chugach/revision/index.htm on the Internet. Chugach forest supervisor Dave Gibbon will finalize that on April 17, Lehnhausen said. The map and the standards, guidelines and work plans that go with it will become the draft forest management plan.
An environmental impact statement analyzing management alternatives should go out for a 120-day public review in late June or July, he said. The Forest Service hopes to publish a final Chugach plan by January.
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