The city of Whale Pass in Southeast Alaska doesn’t have much: a few dozen residents, a road, a school and a few lodges, among other businesses. But what it does have is a lot of trees.
The town, nestled in a cove on the north end of Prince of Wales Island, has been the site of logging camps since the 1960s. Like the rest of Southeast Alaska, the area is covered by the Tongass National Forest, the United States’ largest national forest.
Now, Whale Pass residents are fighting a pending timber sale in their town, pushing for the area to instead be preserved and leased for carbon offsets.
The Alaska Department of National Resources finalized a 292-acre timber sale near Whale Pass in April. A number of the residents testified against the sale, trying to get the department to stop it because it would take place on a visible hillside. James Greeley, a Whale Pass city council member and local business owner, said they didn’t want an area so visible from town being logged.
“This is kind of like a last-ditch effort,” he said.
Nevertheless, the sale was approved. The city council, seeking alternatives, turned to an idea that’s new to Alaska: carbon offsets. In October, the city council sent a letter to DNR requesting that the sale be converted to carbon offsets, seeking to become the first carbon offset program in the state. An analysis provided by the nonprofit the Nature Conservancy to the Whale Pass city council estimated that the value of a carbon offset project there could be worth anywhere between $1.3 million and $6.8 million, depending on the value of the carbon market.
Greeley said the city council sees that as a win-win for the town and for the state — it brings in some money while also preserving the trees for the town, which attracts some tourists to its lodges, and for residents, who value a natural landscape. All 292 acres of the proposed sale area are old-growth forest, according to DNR.
“In my opinion, they want to have their cake and eat it too,” Greeley said. “They talk about timber credits, but they’re still out here cutting down old-growth trees.”
The state says the Whale Pass sale wouldn’t work as a carbon offset lease because it’s too small. At 292 acres, the sale is considered one of the Tongass’ “larger sales,” according to the state’s five-year timber sale plan, but even those sales would fall far short of what the state would consider to be enough to be worth it for a carbon offset lease.
Rena Miller, a special assistant to the office of the DNR commissioner, said in an email that the minimum size would be about 5,000 acres, which she said is an industry standard.
“There are fixed, ongoing costs associated with maintaining a project per the rules of the independent, nonprofit registries that validate the projects and issue credits,” she said. “Those costs need to be recouped via the sale of credits generated by the project. The smaller the land, the higher the credit revenue required to cover costs.”
Carbon offsets work by someone paying the state to manage a piece of forest land to preserve the trees from cutting or fire. Companies or individuals buy an interest in that piece of land as a way to offset their own carbon-producing activities. Facing pressure to reduce carbon footprints, some companies purchase enough to be able to say they are carbon neutral without having to stop other polluting activities.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy approved Senate Bill 48 this year, which authorized the development of a state-sponsored carbon offset program. The regulations are still in development, though, said Lorraine Henry, the director of communications for DNR. According to DNR’s website, the program is still in step two: planning and preparation.
“We anticipate making announcements at key milestones in the program and when public comment periods are open,” Henry said in an email.
DNR commissioner John Boyle said in an email that the state is responsible for nearly all the timber harvest opportunities because of federal rules constricting harvest in federal forest lands. He said they did consider input from Prince of Wales Island communities throughout the process.
“While carbon offset projects will present new opportunities in Alaska, these projects are not substitutes for derelict, one-sided federal management decisions,” he said. “DNR believes that the prudent stewardship of these renewable resources will ensure needed forest products, jobs and sustainable local economies in Southeast Alaska in perpetuity.”
Greeley, who says the residents are concerned about safety from landslides, impacts on property values, views, and the increase in logging traffic on Whale Pass’ only road, said he thought DNR was paying less attention to the community because it’s small.
“Would (the sale) be the ‘perfect size’ if it was bordering a neighborhood in Anchorage?” he said.
Source : ADN