Alaska’s top forester talks timber in Southeast

The appointment of the U.S. Forest Service’s top official in Alaska was recently made permanent. Dave Schmid oversees 22 million acres in the Tongass and Chugach national forests.

He replaced Beth Pendleton who spent eight years in the job.

Schmid didn’t tip his hand to where he stands on proposals to roll back back the federal roadless rule in Tongass National Forest.

The state of Alaska has repeatedly taken the agency to court over the rule, though public hearings held in recent weeks were largely packed with roadless rule supporters.

He said six alternatives are currently under consideration by his agency.

“One of those is the ‘no action’ alternative, and bookending the other is a full exemption (to the roadless rule),” Schmid said.

Asked about the balancing act required for managing the Tongass and Chugach national forest lands, Schmid spoke of his office’s commitment to all facets of the region’s economy, including timber.

“Recreation, tourism, fishing are a vital part of our economy, as is mining and timber development,” Schmid said in an interview. “And right now, the mill at Viking Lumber on Prince of Wales is kind of of the last of the moderate-sized mills. And while it’s not very big it’s a very important piece of those communities.”

Schmid also reaffirmed that the agency seeks to eventually move away from old-growth timber sales. But he said it’ll be a gradual process; indeed, a new old-growth sale was recently announced.

“Regeneration is not a problem in this part of the world,” Schmid said. “And if you walk through some of these legacy, larger clear-cuts, trying to manage those into the future is really important. And so trying to actively thin for wildlife and habitat is really important.”

He also said the Forest Service is moving to improve the work environment for its staff at all levels.

The Forest Service’s chief in Washington resigned earlier this year over allegations of serial sexual misconduct.  A subsequent investigation found widespread complaints at the regional level.

“We’ve spent time internally with our employees,” he said. “We’ve done a number of things, including chartered an employee advisory group, that I meet with regularly to hear from a cross-section of folks, and we have taken several steps both nationally and in the region for our work environment.”

Schmid had served as the acting regional forester for Alaska since April before being made permanent in November. He was previously the deputy regional forester for the Northern Region. That region manages over 25 million acres of federal forestland in five states. Much of his agency career has been in Alaska. He worked 23 years in both the Chugach and Tongass national forests.

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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