ANCHORAGE - In what could be a test case for how the Department of Natural Resources handles difficult issues, the state Department of Fish and Game wants state foresters to cancel two logging sales on the Kenai Peninsula that biologists say could hurt brown bear and moose populations.
At issue are two large swaths of beetle-killed timber, about 4,100 acres in all, a few miles east of Ninilchik.
The DNR Forestry Division wants loggers to clear the dead trees to create jobs and help the forest regenerate, said area forester Jim Peterson. The timber sales, dubbed Dome View and South Ninilchik, would reduce wildfire risk on the Kenai, where a spruce bark beetle infestation has ravaged 1.4 million acres, foresters say.
The logging would employ up to 30 people for about three years and yield about 24 million board feet of timber, Peterson said.
But in a memo last week, Fish and Game biologist Dave Ryland said DNR should shelve the logging plans because brown bear and moose populations could suffer. Ryland wrote that both species depend on the forest for food and shelter, and the surrounding area has been heavily logged.
Ryland noted that the state has listed Kenai-area brown bears as a species of special concern because their numbers have declined.
Several environmental groups submitted similar comments.
Ryland addressed the memo to Jeff Davis, a former Fish and Game habitat division biologist who now works for DNR and advises that department on how timber sales and other development may affect fish and wildlife.
Davis, with several other Fish and Game biologists, shifted to DNR after Gov. Frank Murkowski ordered that Fish and Game's habitat division be dismantled and DNR given expanded authority.
DNR is widely considered an agency that works better with developers than does Fish and Game.
Davis wrote his own memo to area forester Peterson last week. While the biologist expressed the same concern for moose and brown bear as he did to Peterson in 1999, this time he stopped short of recommending that DNR withdraw the logging sales.
Peterson said DNR has listened to Fish and Game's concerns and has altered the logging sales to accommodate wildlife. The timber-sale planners left wildlife corridors of 375 feet on either side of salmon spawning streams and left residual trees throughout the units. The logging will resemble patches more than gaping clearcuts, Peterson said.
In response to concerns that new logging roads will encourage hunting or lead to more human-bear encounters, DNR will make most of the roads temporary. They will be closed after the logging is completed, he said.
State foresters also will meet with Fish and Game biologists to talk over their concerns, Peterson said. And he said there's still time to tailor the logging in ways that would be less detrimental to wildlife or DNR might decide to cancel the sales entirely.