Fish, wildlife and recreation are the primary focus of the proposed management plan for Chugach National Forest, and none of the forest would be managed for large-scale logging.
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 recently released a draft environmental impact statement analyzing the effects of various management options and naming its preferred management plan. That is something like a zoning map that designates allowable land uses.
Public comments are due by Dec. 14.
In mid-October, the Forest Service will begin holding public meetings in communities including Soldotna, Cooper Landing, Hope and Seward, said Forest Service planner Alan Vandiver. The agency's regional forester for Alaska is expected to finalize the plan next spring -- barring any delays caused by the change in administration in January.
Vandiver said Forest Supervisor Dave Gibbons divides the Chugach into two regions.
"Because there is such a large amount of human activity, he thinks of the Kenai Peninsula as an active management area, whereas he thinks of Prince William Sound as more of a backcountry wilderness area," Vandiver said.
"For the Kenai Peninsula, he emphasizes fish, wildlife and recreation. He'd like to have additional Forest Service rental cabins for public-use and additional hiking trails. He's interested in a whistle-stop campground along the railroad (in the Granview area)."
The proposed plan describes generally what activities would be allowed in each zone but leaves the specifics for the district rangers to figure out. It designates most national forest land on the peninsula as "backcountry," where new trails, campgrounds and public-use cabins would be allowed but commercial logging and new construction of Forest Service roads would be banned.
In national forests where commercial logging is the plan, the Forest Service must determine the maximum harvest the forest can sustain over time. In the proposed Chugach plan, Gibbons specifically opposes making that sort of determination.
"In Chugach National Forest as a whole, no areas would be managed for large-scale logging," Vandiver said.
The proposed plan designates much of the area around Hope, along the Sterling and Seward highways and surrounding Cooper, Kenai and Trail lakes for "fish, wildlife and recreation." It designates land around Crescent Lake and the upper Russian and Resurrection rivers as core brown bear habitat. Those designations would allow limited logging, prescribed fire and planting to restore forest health behind the present epidemic of spruce bark beetles.
Vandiver said Gibbons envisions small timber sales for house logs and firewood.
Vandiver said the designated areas for "fish, wildlife and recreation" could allow large-scale logging under a future, more favorably inclined presidential administration, but any large timber sale would require a new environmental review -- and likely a full-blown environmental impact statement.
The proposed plan recommends no new peninsula lands for withdrawal from mineral entry. However, it does recommend designating 1.8 million acres in Prince William Sound and the Copper River area as wilderness. If Congress agrees, Vandiver said, the wilderness lands would be withdrawn from future mineral entry. No Kenai Peninsula lands are proposed for wilderness status.
The plan designates a million acres of the Copper River delta and most of the rest of the sound as backcountry.
It also recommends that Congress designate the north fork of the Snow River as scenic, and that it designate Sixmile Creek as recreational to preserve its white-water boating and scenic value.
It recommends that Alaska's regional forester designate the Black Mountain area by Kenai Lake as a research natural area, preserving it from development for studies to aid in management of similar habitat elsewhere.
There has been controversy over proposals to reserve parts of the forest for nonmotorized use. In most peninsula areas designated "backcountry," Gibbons would allow snowmachines and helicopter ski trips during winter but ban summer vehicles such as motorcycles and four-wheelers.
In areas designated for "fish, wildlife and recreation," he would allow snowmachines, but allow four-wheelers and motorcycles only where specifically authorized by the district ranger. In areas designated as core brown bear habitat, he would allow snowmachines in winter but ban motorized use during the rest of the year.
The proposed plan leaves 90 percent of national forest lands on the Kenai Peninsula open to snowmachines, Vandiver said.
New areas closed to winter motorized use would include the Seattle Creek area in eastern Turnagain Arm, part of the Quartz Creek drainage on the north shore of Kenai Lake, an area by Primrose at the southeast end of Kenai Lake, and an area by Tiehack Mountain six miles north of Seward. The Twentymile River area near Portage would be closed to snowmachines every second year.
The present snowmachine closure at Manitoba Mountain, along the east side of the Seward Highway north of Summit, would be expanded into the backcountry. Turnagain Pass would remain closed to snowmachines east of the Seward Highway. The Resurrection Pass Trail would remain closed to snowmachines before Dec. 1 and after Feb. 15.
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