Do you recall the land exchange that potentially spared a portion of Ketchikan’s iconic Deer Mountain from timber harvesting?
Well, it’s just about complete.
On Aug. 31, Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced that the second phase of the exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority had closed.
The exchange had been in the works for about 15 years, with the Mental Health Trust seeking to trade land that it owned in sensitive areas such as a portion of Deer Mountain to the Forest Service for land more suitable for generating revenue for the Mental Health Trust via timber operations.
Ultimately, the full exchange involved about 17,900 acres of Mental Health Trust land and 18,450 acres of Forest Service land in southern Southeast Alaska.
“This closing is an important and long overdue step in completing this land exchange between the Forest Service and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Office,” Murkowski said in a prepared statement. “The exchange was always needed to provide a timber supply for the remaining timber industry in Southeast Alaska. That’s not the only benefit from this exchange, however. The exchange also will protect viewsheds and local trails in our communities while raising revenue for mental health services across the state.”
Murkowski had done much of the legislative work for the trade on the federal side, authoring the exchange language that was passed in the 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act.
On the State of Alaska side, the Alaska Legislature in May 2017 approved Senate Bill 88, which was sponsored by Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka and Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan before being signed by then-Gov. Bill Walker.
Phase 1 of the land exchange occurred in February 2019. That phase involved about 2,400 acres of Tongass National Forest land on Prince of Wales Island near Naukati and about 2,585 acres near Ketchikan, according to information from Murkowski’s office, which noted that all of the exchange lands were selected “collaboratively” through work by local stakeholders, Forest Service and Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.
The second phase closed on Aug. 30 with an agreement signed by the Forest Service and Trust Land office, according to Murkowski’s office.
The completion of the land exchange also was noted Wednesday by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office, highlighting that revenue generated from timber harvests on the land acquired by the Alaska Mental Health Trust would be supporting mental health resources in Alaska.
The exchange was certainly worth the effort and time it took to accomplish. Prized places such as Deer Mountain will remain as they are, the opportunity for timber-related economic activity is enhanced, and the revenue generated from that timber activity will help address mental health needs. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.