House Bill 155 Supports Alternative to Logging Ketchikan's Iconic Deer Mountain
March 08, 2017
The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority uses revenue from Trust-owned property and lands to provide funding for programs and services that benefit people with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injuries, and substance abuse disorders.
One piece of Trust-owned land is Ketchikan’s iconic Deer Mountain, which has been considered for logging.
“The vast majority of people of Ketchikan, including myself, are opposed to logging Deer Mountain,” said Rep. Ortiz. “This bill would allow for the preservation of Deer Mountain lands while making other lands of comparable value available to the timber industry.”
By exchanging Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority lands for lands of equal value from the U.S. Forest Service, the Trust Land Office will gain land that can be logged and bring in revenue directed to programs that serve Alaska’s most vulnerable populations. House Bill 155 includes a transaction of approximately 20,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land for 18,000 acres of Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority land. Lands affected by the legislation are in Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka, Juneau, and Meyers Chuck.
“Logging Alaska Mental Health Trust land not only funds important programs for Alaskans, it also sustains the timber industry. Current and upcoming logging projects act as a bridge to the timber industry until young growth timber is ready to be logged. Maintaining the timber industry is particularly beneficial to Southeast Alaska, and this bill would bring new logging jobs to Southeast,” said Rep. Ortiz. “I am excited about the potential of this bill to increase revenue for mental health programs and the timber industry while protecting iconic lands, such as Ketchikan’s Deer Mountain.”
HB 155 was formally introduced on Monday and was referred to the Alaska House Resources and Finance Committees.
House Bill 155 is the state's match for federal legislation sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Representative Don Young.
In January 2017, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, and U.S. Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, introduced companion bills to accelerate an equal value land exchange between the Alaska Mental Health Trust (Trust) and the U.S. Forest Service. The legislation, which nearly passed last Congress, protects important community viewsheds, local trails, and other conservation values while expediting much-needed timber for local operators and generating new revenues for mental health services across the state.
“Our bill protects lands that are worth protecting, provides critical timber to keep our sawmills running, and raises money for mental health programs in the midst of our state’s ongoing fiscal crisis,” Murkowski said in a prepared statement in January. “This is a widely supported, common sense solution that will deliver real economic and environmental benefits for Southeast communities. It is one of my top legislative priorities, and my goal is to have it signed into law as quickly as possible.”
“This common sense solution to a specific issue that Southeast Alaska faces is a perfect example of the federal government working cooperatively with local stakeholders,” Sullivan said in a prepared statement in January. “It’s a win for communities and for the federal government, and we should pass this bill immediately.”
“This legislation represents a unified effort by stakeholders to resolve a longstanding issue facing Southeast Alaska,” Young said in a prepared statement in January. “Not only does this assist the Alaska Mental Health Trust fulfill its mandate and mission, it also helps protect the region’s timber industry – which is quickly running out of timber to mill. I encourage the swift consideration and passage of this bill.”
The Forest Service and the Trust have already agreed to the land exchange in principle. It is accounted for in the Forest Service’s Tongass Land Management Plan amendment, but would take years to execute without expediting legislation.
In the exchange, the Forest Service would receive approximately 17,341 acres of the Trust’s “non-federal” land. Much of the land comprises the scenic backdrops of Southeast communities such as Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Wrangell, and Juneau. Under the terms of the bill, the exchanged lands will be added to the Tongass National Forest and managed to protect the scenic backdrops of the adjacent communities.
In return, the Trust will receive approximately 20,580 acres of Forest Service “federal” land that it may use to generate funds to help run the State of Alaska’s mental health system. The Trust will allow timber harvesting on some of its acquired lands to fund its mental health programs and provide “bridge” timber needed to keep current Southeast sawmills operating during the transition to more second-growth harvesting.
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Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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