(The Trust)recently signed an Agreement to Initiate (ATI).
The agreement provides a roadmap to exchange land between the Trust Land Office, which manages lands for the Alaska Mental Health Trust, and the Forest Service. The ATI is similar to a business plan andillustrates the land exchange process.
The Forest Service would take over the management of approximately 18,000 acres of Trust land adjacent to the communities of Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka, and Ketchikan. In exchange, up to 21,000 acresof National Forest System lands would be conveyed to the Trust.
“The signing of the ATI is a milestone in a lengthy 10-year discussion process,” said John Morrison, Acting Executive Director for the Trust Land Office. “The administrative land exchange proposal was developed incollaboration with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority (The Trust), Forest Service, and variety of stakeholders and communities throughout Southeast Alaska.”
Although a federal land exchange can be a time-consuming and arduous process, the Tongass National Forest supervisor calls this collaborative exchange a win for all involved.
“The lands that the Trust wants to convey to us are located adjacent to several Southeast Alaska communities,” Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart explained. “The transfer could allow us to increase recreationalopportunities for forest users. It also could enhance and complement the use of areas that are already being managed for the public.”
The lands that would be conveyed to the Trust are located in areas more suitable for development, said Stewart. “The National Forest System lands are not located in scenic view- sheds and are comprised ofuneven-aged forests so the Trust would have a better opportunity to manage those areas.”
John echoed the Tongass supervisor’s remarks.
“We are committed to fulfillment of the mandate to generate income, from Trust lands, to improve the lives and circumstance of Trust beneficiaries,” said Morrison. “Our goal is to utilize forest and other resourcesmanaged in perpetuity to provide healthy ecosystems, strengthen local community social structure; and regionally, generate robust, diversified economies.”
The ATI is the beginning of the land exchange process.
The general public and forest users will have a chance to voice their desires and determine if the exchange will be in the public interest through the NationalEnvironmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process.
“The ATI will serve as a general guide,” said Lands Specialist Hillary Woods, a member of the Alaska Lands Team for the Chugach and Tongass National Forests. “It is an important first step that kick starts theexchange process and begins to move it forward, but there is more work to be done including public scoping and involvement, NEPA analysis, environmental reporting, final boundary line survey, final titlecommitments, and appraisal services.”
For more information, call Tongass National Forest Partnership & Public Affairs Staff Officer Gregory “Kent” Cummins at 907-228-6201 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.