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The first phase of a Southeast Alaska land trade between the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and the U.S. Forest Service is moving forward, and that’s a good thing.
It’s taken more than a decade of discussion and negotiation — not to mention legislation by Congress and the Alaska Legislature — to get to the point that ownership of some of the land in question will be traded.
The overall exchange involves about 18,258 acres of trust land and about 20,528 acres of Forest Service land in several areas of Southeast Alaska.
The first of the land exchange’s two phases involves some of the Alaska Mental Health Trust tracts in the Ketchikan area that are part of the overall exchange.
Phase 1 involves about 2,400 acres of Ketchikan-area trust land, including the 1,878-acre Signal Mountain parcel and the 707-acre Minerva Mountain parcels. These parcels are being exchanged for about 2,400 acres of Forest Service land near Naukati on Prince of Wales Island.
Phase 2 is expected to be complete in about one year, and will involve about 900 acres on Deer Mountain and the 3,178-acre Gravina Island Mid tract.
That trust’s Deer Mountain tract provided some key momentum for the land exchange process.
Originally formed in 1956 and reconstituted in 1994, the Alaska Mental Health Trust uses revenues generated from the approximately 1 million acres of land it owns in the state to help pay for mental health programs in the state.
Some of the land held by the trust is located in viewsheds important to communities, making it difficult for the trust to generate revenue on land that many locals didn’t want to see developed. When the trust announced the potential for logging on Ketchikan’s iconic Deer Mountain, the resulting community comment helped propel the process for the trust to exchange sensitive land for federal land that would be more amenable for timber and other development.
The result is a land exchange that should help the trust in its mission to fund mental health service for Alaskans while allowing viewshed and other parcels to be managed by the Forest Service — an agency that doesn’t have a mandate to generate revenue on land that it oversees.
While few circumstances involving land management and development in Southeast Alaska can ever please everybody, this land exchange between the trust and Forest Service comes close to a win-win all around.
The Alaska Mental Health Trust has a valuable mission. This trade is expected to assist in that mission, while places like Deer Mountain remain in stable management, just as they are.
Our appreciation goes to the many people who were, are and will be involved in helping this happen.