Survey asks public's opinion on management of forests

Posted: Tuesday, April 23, 2002

About 400 Kenai Peninsula residents can expect to receive phone calls regarding their opinions on forest management in the coming weeks.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will replicate a public opinion survey first conducted in 1991 to determine whether people's opinions changed through the spruce bark beetle epidemic.

"Alaska is not the only western state that faces fire risks and severe forest health issues," said Bob Wheeler, a forestry specialist with Cooperative Extension. "Alaska can be to some benefit looking at naturally occurring disasters and whether they change people's beliefs and values (about forest management)."

The state contracted the Institute of Social and Economic Research at University of Alaska Anchorage to conduct the first survey in 1991, when an estimated 700,000 acres of forest land on the peninsula had been killed by an overpopulation of spruce bark beetles.

Since that time, the epidemic has impacted about another 1.3 million acres, causing massive tree loss, wildfire risks and controversies over forest management, though Wheeler said the beetle population is finally on the decline after about 10 years.

Cooperative Extension will conduct the survey in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Boreal Forest Council. Phone interviews are expected to take place late this month and in early May.

The new study will replicate the original, asking the same questions of 400 peninsula residents and 100 Anchorage residents.

The results, Wheeler said, will have no impact on actual land management policy but will, hopefully, provide public opinion trend information for potential future forest issues.

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