September 6, 2012 | Vol. 39, No. 36

USFS seeking comments on Tongass cabin closures

Due to very low public use, the cabin at Binkley Slough has been removed from the U.S. Forest Service’s public reservation system – a situation not unusual among other structures in Southeast.

Because of this, the USFS is looking for public comment on whether a number of cabins across the Tongass should be removed from public use.

“Many of these cabins are dilapidated and have not been on the cabin reservation system for many years,” stated Tongass National Forest supervisor Forrest Cole in an email. “The cabins that were available for rent received very little or no use, and have been removed from the reservation system and used administratively, or in some cases, as survival shelters.”

A few of the cabins available in Southeast, like the Rezanof Lake cabin in the Sitka Ranger District is collapsed and beyond repair. Of all the cabins in the Tongass, 143 cabins and 43 shelters will remain on the forest for public use, according to Cole.

“Some of you may have commented earlier on individual cabin removals on each district but this is your only opportunity to comment on the Tongass-wide 2013-2014 cabin program,” Cole stated. “The districts have retained your comments and they will be considered as part of this project.”

According to Cole, the Tongass has tried for a number of years to determine how best to manage about 150 recreation cabins on ten ranger districts. Funds to operate and maintain these cabins come from a mix of appropriated dollars and rental fees.

In 2005, the Tongass conducted a recreation facility analysis and set a 5-year action plan for 2006 to 2011 to define a recreation cabin niche. As part of this plan, the USFS removed three cabins and converted two to shelters, which cost less to maintain.

“In 2010, the Tongass contracted a firm to assess the cabin program and suggest a financially sustainable program,” Cole added. “The initial report recommends changing cabin fees, eliminating cabins with little or no use, and changing operation and maintenance strategies.”

The current program costs about $1.16 million annually. The cabin rental fees return less than 50 percent of the annual costs.

“Based on recommendations, we propose to remove nine cabins and convert three other cabins to survival shelters on seven districts,” Cole stated. “Cabin removals will consist of removing non-burnable material and burning the cabin in place, except for the McGilvery cabin.”

After non-burnable material removal, the McGilvery cabin, on Prince of Wales Island will be left to decay. Removal of wilderness cabins will follow USFS guidelines. Conversion to shelters will be either through modification of the existing cabin, or replacement.

Those wishing to comment should contact Cole at the Ketchikan Federal Building, fax their comments to (907) 228-6215, or email them to comments-alaska-tongass@fs.fed.us.

Comments can be hand-delivered to the Ketchikan office Monday through Friday during normal business hours.

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