SITKA — Half a century of Sitka history in a 61-foot steel hull is being auctioned off by the U.S. Forest Service.
The M/V Sitka Ranger, which entered service in 1959 as the floating presence of the Forest Service in the Tongass National Forest, is on the auction block.
Roy Mitchell, deputy regional fleet manager for the Forest Service in Anchorage, said the Sitka Ranger and its sister ship the M/V Tongass Ranger are being auctioned off because there’s no longer enough field work in the country’s largest national forest to require three ranger vessels in Southeast Alaska.
The M/V Chugach Ranger, based in Petersburg, is the one out of the original three that is being retained by the Forest Service.
The Tongass Ranger hasn’t yet been put up for bid but could be as early as the week of July 22.
“Business has changed and we just don’t have the field work (and) we don’t have the budget to allow us to do the field work to keep all three vessels viable,” Mitchell said. “We just aren’t able to keep them because they’re just not financially viable today.”
Bidding in the online auction of the Sitka Ranger opened at $200 on July 8 but as of today the total had been pushed over $45,000. Mitchell said he’s received a number of serious inquiries including some from Sitka and some from down south.
“We’ve had a half a dozen pretty serious requests for viewing. There have been three or four requests from people in Sitka but we’ve also gotten serious interest from a party in Tennessee,” Mitchell said.
The auction, which closed July 23, is taking place on a government-run website for disposal of surplus government property, gsaauctions.gov. A search for “Sitka Ranger” on that website brings up more information about the boat, including the opportunity to bid, and a 130-page document that details the history of the boat and the Ranger program.
The document explains the boat’s eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic places as well as information on the Ranger boat program, which began in 1908 with the Ranger Boat Tahn.
The document also contains the history of the M/V Chugach, which the Forest Service will keep in service.
“The Chugach Ranger is the oldest and only wood boat we have in our fleet ... The Chugach boat is our history and it is on the historic register so we decided to keep her in our fleet,” Shonnie Nelson, regional fleet manager, said.
Proceeds from the sale of the Sitka Ranger will go into the working capital fund to support the Chugach Ranger, Nelson added.
Ken Dinsmore, the regional measurements specialist and president of the employees union for Forest Service employees said the employees are sad to see the ship go.
“Employees on the Tongass, especially the northern end, were saddened to learn of this decision, however they do recognize the need to reduce budgets given our current situation,” Dinsmore said. “The Sitka Ranger has been a useful and productive ship for more than 35 years in Sitka providing transport and lodging for many forest service projects including search and rescue operation.”
Information about the boat can be found through the gsaauctions.gov website or by calling Mitchell at 907-743-9552.
The boat is tied up at the Forest Service dock just off Totem Square in Sitka.