SENIOR WALK – Sitka High School seniors walk through the halls of Xoots Elementary School wearing their graduation attire this morning as they are congratulated by students. The seniors walked through the halls of both elementary schools and the middle school this morning. Seventy-four seniors will be graduating in the ceremony which begins 7 p.m. tonight in the school gym. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

Sitkans Give Ideas On New Forest Policy


Sentinel Staff Writer

The Forest Service heard from a handful of Sitkans in open house sessions Friday and Saturday, on topics ranging from habitat restoration, hunting and recreation, to firewood access in the Tongass National Forest.

The Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy events were part of a shift in Tongass management away from large-scale old-growth logging.

But the planning process is far from over, and the service wants to hear more from Alaskans interested in the topic. It’s crucial for the Forest Service to work alongside community organizations, rather than parallel or in opposition to them, Sitka District Ranger Eric Garner said at Friday evening’s meeting.

“We’re moving into a new paradigm where we really want to find out what our communities (want), our partners, and our tribal partners… How do we want to manage the forest going into the future? We want to get feedback on those priorities, on those themes from our community and our partners, what that might look like. So that’s a big paradigm shift for us internally,” Garner said to a small group in Centennial Hall. Excluding Forest Service employees, fewer than half a dozen were present for his Friday presentation, but Garner said more had come in and out through the course of the seven-hour meeting.

The SASS process focuses on a diverse array of topics, including restoration work, Indigenous co-stewardship, recreation, cultural wood use, and working toward young-growth timber cutting, a USFS handout states.

More information is available online at, where folks also can leave written comments on the agency’s “story map,” which allows for commenting with geographical specificity.

“We want to be honest and have honest dialogue,” Garner said. “If there’s something that’s important to you and the community, how can we work together through partnering, collaboration, leveraging those resources to manifest those into how we help our communities?”

As USFS moves beyond the era of large-scale old-growth clearcut logging, Garner emphasized the need for “a more diverse economy of recreation... We’re looking at some young growth coming on online. What are those other opportunities?”

He hopes the sustainability process will accumulate input from numerous community members and organizations, from Sitka Tribe of Alaska to nonprofits such as the Sitka Conservation Society.

Katie Riley, deputy director of the Sitka Conservation Society, is encouraging Sitkans to participate in the planning process, and said she hopes the local input would also reach Alaska’s congressional delegation.

“I’m hoping that this process establishes a community-driven vision for the future of Tongass management and really captures what local Sitkans use the forest for and what they want to see happen in their local use areas, not only in Sitka, but all across the region,” Riley said. “And I hope that that information also makes its way back to Washington to our delegation so that we can address those shifts between the priorities on the ground and the funding strings that are attached to them at the congressional level.”

Speaking of a specific project possibility, she noted the potential for significant restoration and recreation work in the Katlian Bay watershed, which was clearcut decades ago. In the absence of a lumber mill in Sitka, she also inquired about the future of timber management in the district and hoped small timber operators will be included in the SASS process.

Zach Foss, a local builder, asked Garner about the status of gathering firewood in the area. He also noted there is a local demand for tiny homes built with Tongass timber, but city building regulations stand in the way.

“What about access to firewood and reasonable access to personal use wood? It’s like Peril Strait, I think; right now we would have to go (there) to get personal use wood, which is pretty ridiculous,” he said. As for tiny homes, “There’s so many rules to build the tiny home, nobody would do it in their right mind right now,” he said.

On the topic of firewood, Garner noted that he’s had wood-burning stove heating through much of his life, but Sitka’s minimal road network –  which is often bordered by city land – complicates wood gathering.

Jacquie Foss, who works for the Forest Service but commented as a member of the public, encouraged locals to advocate for their interests.

“The public can actually help organizations like SCS to advocate in ways that the Forest Service can’t – for money,” she said. “The Forest Service can’t go to Congress and say, ‘You really need to be funding us this way.’ We rely heavily on partners and members of the public to advocate… If the priorities of the region have changed, the people who hold the purse strings need to hear that.”

She hoped the Forest Service will include builders in forest management planning, and was glad to hear USFS speaking on the topic of affordable housing.

“I am so pumped and encouraged to have the Forest Service addressing housing in a meaningful way,” she said. “It’s absolutely necessary and critical. I really, really hope that this includes people who spend a lot of time building in Southeast Alaska.”

The district ranger expressed interest in the possibility of Tongass timber tiny homes.

“Our community and partners, people are struggling to find an affordable place to live,” he said. “And so one of the projects, there’s $46 million this year alone for innovation of wood products from the infrastructure bill.”

Garner already has a name, complete with acronym, for the project: the Housing Opportunities Module Experiment, or HOME.

At Saturday’s shorter meeting, another eight people arrived to express their views, Garner told the Sentinel today.

“Main topics were letting parts of the forest rest, access, recreation, young growth harvest, and housing challenges,”he said.

Sitkans who didn’t attend the public listening sessions can comment and make their suggestions directly to the Forest Service at

More than a dozen comments are already posted for the Sitka Ranger District. These range from improved access to firewood to site-specific requests for pre-commercial timber thinning on the Corner Bay road network, and habitat improvement in old clearcuts on the Duffield Peninsula. Another commenter online requested restoration work on the vast network of clearcuts around Cube Cove, north of Angoon on Admiralty Island, while another hoped for cedar thinning along the Appleton Cove road network.

By June 30, Garner said, the district intends to publish the common themes of comments they’ve received and put those out for further community input. The district office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and people interested in pouring over maps in person can call to set up a meeting. The Sitka Ranger District phone number is 907-747-6671.

“Just give us a call, if you want to come by, my team and myself, we’ll make sure to set time aside and have you come into the office,” the district ranger said.

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May 2004

The budget just approved by the Legislature shows Sitka School District may expect a nearly $900,000 increase in operating funds from the Legislature, Superintendent Steve Bradshaw said today. “We’re extremely happy, but we will still have to make cuts in the budget,” Bradshaw said.


May 1974

Bruce Hays, 14, son of Mr. and Mrs. Hank Hays, spelled his way to the number 10 spot last weekend in the state spelling beer sponsored by the Anchorage Times.


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