Conservationists are challenging one of the state’s largest old growth timber sales in Haines State Forest in more than 20 years. It’s the second challenge to the Baby Brown project, which opponents say threatens biodiversity in upper Chilkat Valley.
Lynn Canal Conservation is leading a group of environmental organizations that allege the state failed to provide proper public notice before authorizing the logging of more than 1,000 acres of Haines State Forest. And they’re calling for the state to cancel the timber sale, says Executive Director Jessica Plachta.
“Our economy depends on an intact landscape, our fishing, our tourism,” she said. “90% of local people utilize subsistence resources, primarily salmon, and salmon is dependent on on intact forests. So the importance of this landscape really can’t be overemphasized, and Baby Brown is an integral part of this landscape.”
In 2017, the Baby Brown sale was canceled after Lynn Canal Conservation successfully argued that the state Division of Forestry didn’t create a land use plan for the entire harvest area.
This spring, the forestry division awarded Baby Brown to an Oregon-based timber company, Northwest Forest Products, for a bid of $423,455. The company has five years from the date of signing to harvest timber, roughly to early 2026.
This time they also included a second site, Glacier Side #2, of about 150 more acres of forest for logging. Lynn Canal Conservation says bundling the two parcels together under one formal plan without public input isn’t legal.
“They’re cutting corners on the public process to benefit the purchaser,” Plachta said. “And in this case, the purchaser is an out-of-state logging company that plans to raw-log export our forest, and it doesn’t benefit local people. It doesn’t even benefit the state. It costs the state more to offer these sales than it gets in timber receipts.”
She says public comment is a required safeguard for the management of state lands.
Deputy State Forester Tim Dabney says his office combined the two sites through an amendment for the convenience of the logging company. He says the tracts added later had already been previously authorized for logging, but that contractor defaulted.
“And without having done anything on the sale, and since Glacier Side #2 harvest units are adjacent to the Baby Brown harvest units, the decision was for us to combine both of those sales into one sale, which is totally fine,” Dabney said.
Dabney says his office has received the appeal and is considering their request to cancel the sale. He says the agency doesn’t know when it will rule on the challenge, but state attorneys and the Natural Resources commissioner’s office are reviewing whether the bundled timber sale was improper.
“We’re considering their request,” he said. “And I have really no information beyond that we’re in consideration of their request.”
Plachta says the entire Haines Forest region at the headwaters of the Chilkat Valley is critical habitat and should not be disturbed.
“I think it’s 13 miles of new roads, building a couple of new bridges, a whole bunch of new culverts. And, you know, that’s a lot of damage to what’s otherwise intact growth, transitional forest, which is really important,” she said. “Turns out the United States has less than 3% of its original old growth forest, and so it might feel abundant here, but it’s really not.”
Plachta says there are telltale signs the old growth forest will not grow back as promised by state authorities, citing heavy logging in the Upper Chilkat Valley decades ago, which she says contributed to the decline of the king salmon runs.
“Where a lot of us are going to go blueberry picking this September, those are 50-year-old clear cuts,” Plachta said. “And those 50-year-old clear cuts are not regrowing, they’re not turning into the new old growth that the state forest predicts that we’ll be having. Those are blueberry fields with a lot of alder and the occasional coniferous tree.”
The bidder is listed as Northwest Forest Products of Baker City, Oregon. That’s a relatively new company in Alaska. But its principal has been through this before. The outfit is owned by Stan Runnels, a former Astoria Forest Products executive. The Astoria company had been the high bidder on the Baby Bear timber sale that was shelved in 2017 after environmentalists objected to the process.