JUNEAU, Alaska — A $4 million deal between the U.S. Forest Service and a southeast Alaska Native corporation will return 4,500 acres of heavily logged forest on Admiralty Island to wilderness.
The Forest Service purchased the land on the west side of the island near Cube Cove with money from its Land and Water Conservation Fund. The deal announced earlier this month covers two of 13 parcels owned by the Sitka-based corporation Shee Atika, CoastAlaska News reported (http://bit.ly/2dcvAag).
The two parcels about 30 miles south of Juneau were once forested and acquired by the corporation under terms of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
The land was logged for nearly two decades until 2002.
James King, director of the Forest Service’s Recreation, Lands and Minerals program, said additional funds may be spent to speed the area’s restoration.
“It’s possible that as we do further analysis on it, that if we determine to better help the habitat that thinning may occur. But those decisions have not been made yet,” King said.
The agency is also looking to purchase the remaining parcels from Shee Atika, which covers 17,500 acres of land and totals about $14 million. Additional land purchases will depend on future federal budgets, King said.
Critics of the recent deal have questioned the Forest Service’s timing in buying back the lands.
“And now, in this situation, the government would buy back the lands that were logged? And Shee Atika made a profit on them? And now the government’s buying it back from them? It’s a strange situation,” said Sitka Conservation Society Executive Director Andrew Thoms.
Shee Atika shareholder Mike Kinville said he was concerned about the corporation giving up its property.
“Shee Atika is not making, what is in my opinion, sound decisions. To sell our last pieces of land concerns me,” he said.
The Forest Service said buying up wilderness inholdings is a top priority for the Tongass National Forest and is part of its land management plan.