USFS allows small memorials

Alaska granted exception to policy barring private markers

Posted: Tuesday, February 22, 2000

The controversy over private memorials in National Forests has been resolved - with an exception in favor of Alaska.

Alaska Regional Forester Rick Cables said the new policy allows small, temporary memorials to relatives and friends within national forests in Alaska providing the local Forest Service district ranger is consulted first. That policy is an exception to national policy that prohibits private memorials, such as crosses on roadsides or beaches, in national forests.

``The national policy would have required us to remove the many unauthorized monuments that have been placed on the national forests in Alaska over the years,'' Cables said. ``We are aware of the tradition here of erecting temporary monuments to loved ones. We wanted a policy that would be responsive to that tradition, would be equitable, and would work even if many people used it. We think this new policy for Alaska goes a long way toward meeting those goals.''

Lynn Humphrey, public involvement specialist with the Forest Service, said the policy defines small as ``not to exceed 4 feet in height and 3 feet in width.''

Acceptable materials include driftwood, local stone and other native materials, held together with biodegradable adhesive. Concrete, polished granite and engraved metal plaques are prohibited, Humphrey said, ``but we are looking at milled lumber as native materials, so two-by-fours would be acceptable'' as long as they are not treated with preservatives.

``Biodegradable'' is being defined as lasting three to five years.

The new policy does not grandfather in existing memorials, Cables said.

``Forest Service national policy does not allow for the placement of any private, personal monuments on the National Forest, and we feel fortunate that we were able to get an exemption for Alaska that allows almost all of the existing temporary monuments to remain,'' he said.

However, he noted, ``the basic guideline of no permanent memorials will not change.''

Not all Southeast residents are content with the new policy. One of the memorials challenged by the Forest Service was an 8-foot cross erected in Mud Bay, 13 miles northwest of Sitka, by the family of Calvin Carlson Jr., who died in June 1998 in a four-wheeler accident. Mud Bay was a favorite spot of Carlson, 19, his father said. The cross was marked with a cast aluminum plaque.

``I was just in a meeting Friday (with Forest Service officials),'' Sitka commercial fisherman Calvin Carlson Sr. said Saturday. ``Our cross is going to be taken down. I asked if I could leave it up three to five years, and maybe a 100-mile wind would knock it down. But they said no.''

``We got about 1,560 signatures on a petition (in support of the cross) in a week,'' Carlson said, ``but that didn't seem to make any difference. You can't buck city hall.''

The Carlson family was told they could build a public cabin and place a biodegradable memorial next to it. ``But we would have to supply the work force for the cabin,'' he said.

``I can't blame these people,'' Carlson said. ``They're just following orders. But these memorials are all over the United States and the world.''

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