The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority board approved a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service, with the aim of getting timber projects off the ground in Southeast.
Wyn Menefee, the executive director of the AMHTA Trust Land Office (TLO), said it’s the biggest land exchange in the trust’s history. Though the exact amount of land still has to be worked out, the AMHTA Board of Trustees approved the exchange that will send more than 20,000 acres of USFS land to the trust for more than 18,000 acres of trust lands throughout Southeast.
Menefee said the trust is hoping to make money off its newly acquired lands with timber harvesting. According to the TLO website, the lands could yield between $40 and $60 million over the next 20 years. Lands going to the Forest Service will be protected, Menefee explained. The overall aim of the land exchange is to protect viewsheds while logging less-sensitive lands to earn money for the trust.
As part of the exchange, the trust is giving nearly 2,700 acres of land on Douglas Island — land that includes the Mount Bradley (Mount Jumbo) Trail — to the Forest Service. Menefee said the Forest Service is not allowed to do logging on the lands it’s receiving as part of the deal.
“The Forest Service won’t be doing any timber cuts on it,” Menefee said. “It will most likely be managed for recreation.”
Forest Service representatives were not able to be reached for comment, with the public affairs staff being on furlough due to the partial federal government shutdown. Calls, emails and texts to multiple spokespeople were not returned.
During the AMHTA’s public board meeting Thursday, the main focus was about the possible value of logging in the area of Naukati Bay on Prince of Wales Island. According to the AMHTA’s website, the TLO is working to complete a timber sale to Viking Lumber for old-growth timber in the Naukati Bay area. This 100-million-board-feet timber sale is expected to yield about $15 million to the trust over 10 years.
“Naukati is prime timber land,” AMHTA Senior Resource Manager Paul Slenkamp said during the meeting. “We spent a lot of time to identify lands that will be long-term value to the trust and provide ongoing revenue.”
AMHTA might also receive more than 8,000 acres at Shelter Cove near Ketchikan and about 1,500 acres near Hollis on Prince of Wales. Menefee explained via email Thursday that it’s still up in the air whether they get those parcels. The trust must get an equal value for the land it gives in an exchange, Menefee explained.
Appraisers have yet to complete their appraisals of all the land involved in the exchange, and the amount of land the trust gets depends on how much the land on both sides of the deal is appraised at.
It’s also not clear whether all the land the trust gains will be used for timber, Menefee said. Naukati will definitely be used for timber, he said, but if there are more lucrative uses for other lands they get, they’ll look into those.
“Timber harvest is one of the primary ways that the trust can monetize its assets but other potential revenue generation options will always be considered,” Menefee said via email.
The land exchange will be done in two phases, with the initial exchange happening later this month (the date depends on when the government shutdown ends) and with the second phase happening next year, Menefee said. The parcel on Douglas will be part of next year’s exchange. The trust has committed about $6.3 million to working on the land exchange, according to the meeting materials.
The board’s approval is one of the last steps in a process that has taken more than a decade. The exchange required both state and federal legislation. President Donald Trump signed a federal bill called S.131 into law in May 2017. Former Gov. Bill Walker signed Senate Bill 88 into law in October 2017. Both of those bills authorized the exchange. Now the board has to send a letter to Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and he can put the state law into effect.
The federal bill states that the primary goals of the exchange are to preserve the natural beauty of Southeast while also creating jobs and serving the goals of the AMHTA. The trust authority has land throughout the state, and its main purpose is to manage those lands in a way that brings in money to give to Alaskans with mental illness, developmental disabilities, chronic alcoholism, traumatic brain injuries and more.
Menefee said he felt this was a “win-win” for the trust and the Forest Service. At the signing ceremony for the state bill in 2017, Walker and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski used the same phrase.
“Because of this exchange,” the Ketchikan Daily News quoted Murkowski as saying, “we have protected viewshed, we have allowed for support for our timber industry because of the exchange and again, provided a valuable resource to the Alaska Mental Health Trust.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.