Proposed Chugach management plan big on wildlife; no logging

Posted: Monday, September 25, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- Fish, wildlife and recreation would be the focus of a new management plan for Chugach National Forest with no large-scale logging under a proposal to be offered at public meetings beginning next month.

The U.S. Forest Service has been working for several years to revise the 1984 management plan for the Chugach National Forest, which spans some 5.5 million acres. It extends from Cooper Landing to Seward, Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta.

The agency recently released a draft Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the effects of various management options and outlining its preferences. That's something like a zoning map that designates land use.

The Forest Service will start holding meetings about the proposal beginning in mid-October. The public comment period closes Dec. 14.

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 fires and planting to restore forests harmed by the spruce bark beetle epidemic.

The plan would designate a million acres of the Copper River Delta and most of the rest of the sound as backcountry.

Forestry officials said they anticipate that some small timber sales would be allowed for such things as house logs and firewood.

Forest Supervisor Dave Gibbons divided the Chugach into two regions, agency planner Alan Vandiver said.

''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 told the Peninsula Clarion.

''For the Kenai Peninsula, he (Gibbons) 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 determine. 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 construction of new Forest Service roads would be banned.

In national forests where commercial logging is part of the plan, the Forest Service must determine the maximum harvest the forest can sustain. In the proposed Chugach plan, however, Gibbons opposes making that sort of determination.

''In Chugach National Forest as a whole, no areas would be managed for large-scale logging,'' Vandiver said.

Areas designated 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 probably a full-blown environmental impact statement.

The proposed plan recommends no new peninsula lands for withdrawal from mineral entry. It does recommend designating 1.8 million acres in Prince William Sound and the Copper River area as wilderness.

If Congress agrees, then the wilderness lands would be withdrawn from future mineral entry, Vandiver said.

No Kenai Peninsula lands are proposed for wilderness status.

There has been some controversy about proposals that would reserve areas of the forest for nonmotorized use. In most peninsula areas designated ''backcountry,'' Gibbons would allow snowmachines and helicopter ski trips during winter but would ban such warm-weather vehicles as motorcycles and four-wheelers.

In areas designated for fish, wildlife and recreation, he would allow snowmachines, but would 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 would 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.

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