KENAI, Alaska — The U.S. Forest Service is moving forward with updating its management plan for the Chugach National Forest on the eastern part of the Kenai Peninsula.

The federal agency began a revision process for the forest in 2012 by gathering input from the public and researching current use and environmental conditions, The Peninsula Clarion reported (http://bit.ly/2cc6gCD).

A report released last week says the Forest Service is making changes to the forest plan because of a changing environment and public concern.

The agency received more than 1,400 responses during the public comment period from Alaska residents, organizations, local governments as well as state and federal agencies.

Two Alaska Native corporations — Cook Inlet Region, Incorporated and Chugach Alaska Corporation —voiced concerns about access to the land for activities such as mining and logging. They also were concerned about land ownership and their rights under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement.

“Much of the forest has yet to be adequately explored for its mineral values,” Benjamin Mohr, the surface estate manager for Cook Inlet Region, Incorporated, said in the corporations’ comment. “Closing an area to mineral entry forecloses future exploration and development opportunities and in turn closes economies of scale and support for exploration on CIRI lands.”

Several agencies and organizations, including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Forest Association, asked the Forest Service to avoid designating more wilderness area. But other groups expressed support for more wilderness designation in the forest.

Opening the land to mining, logging, and other land-based activities “would forever change the pristine wilderness characteristics of (Prince William Sound),” wrote Chris Pallister, founder of Gulf of Alaska Keeper. “It would damage commercial, subsistence and recreational fish and wildlife resources. In addition, nowhere have logging, mining and onshore development proved compatible with salmon.”

The Forest Service’s draft plan proposes keeping management of the wilderness study area the same until Congress takes action.

The agency expects a draft environmental assessment to be finished in 2017.


Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com