Sealaska may pay for illegal tree felling

State officials say 36 trees were cut too close to fish streams

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Sealaska Corp. could face a state fine for cutting 36 trees too close to salmon streams on Prince of Wales Island.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources sent the regional Native corporation a charging document this month that alleges multiple violations of the Forest Practices Act, the state's main logging law.

Todd Antioquia, a Sealaska spokesman, told the Anchorage Daily News that the company is reviewing the document and considers the matter "very, very serious." Sealaska has 20 days to decide whether to contest the charges.

DNR forester Mike Curran investigated the case. He said Sealaska called him in early February to report a possible forestry violation on company land in Soda Bay on Prince of Wales Island. Curran flew to the site the following day.

According to the charging document Curran wrote, 36 trees were illegally cut along two salmon streams and a salt chuck, a tidally influenced marsh that supports anadromous fish. State law requires loggers to leave 66-foot-wide tree buffers alongside salmon-bearing waters running through private land.

Curran's report indicates that the trees were taken within the buffers and in some cases the buffers were not marked with flagging as required.

Sealaska executive Rick Harris said in February that the company had contracted the work to Alaska Pacific Logging. Harris said Sealaska was no longer using the firm, at least in ecologically sensitive areas, because it was not satisfied with its work. It isn't clear when the illegal cutting took place, but Curran said it likely happened last fall.

In 2000, Sealaska also had problems in Soda Bay. Loggers for the company improperly installed several bridges along salmon-bearing waters, according to DNR officials. The company and state officials have yet to reach a settlement in the case, Antioquia said.

In the newer case, Sealaska faces a fine of up to $10,000 for each of the 36 trees improperly cut and a similar fine for each instance of failing to mark a buffer, according to the charging document.

After the company responds to the charges, confidential talks between state prosecution coordinator Jim Eleazer and a Sealaska representative will begin, Curran said.

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