PUBLISHED: 4:46 PM on Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Alaska forester decides against using helicopters to inventory wilderness
Employee safety, wilderness impacts main considerations by top official
JUNEAU, Alaska - Alaska's top Forest Service official has decided against using helicopters to access wilderness areas in Alaska's national forests for the Forest Inventory and Analysis program.

Alaska Regional Forester Dennis E. Bschor selected the No Action alternative due to concerns about helicopter access affecting wilderness character, and because of the high risk to employees from having to walk to remote plots through steep, wet terrain.

The Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station manages the FIA program for Alaska's national forests, which involves collecting vegetative and forest health data from randomly selected plots. FIA crews face treacherous conditions while accessing remote plots by foot.

Although helicopter landings are not normally allowed in wilderness, the option was considered to reduce the risk to employees. The environmental analysis included alternatives that had different amounts of helicopter landings to access the inventory plots and an alternative that required walking to all the plots.

Bschor's decision means there will be no FIA inventory in wilderness areas on the Tongass National Forest, nor on the wilderness study area in the Chugach National Forest unless the inventory can be done safely with non-motorized equipment. The use of helicopters for FIA will continue outside of wilderness on the forests.

Bschor said the Alaska Region is exploring existing and emerging technologies for gathering data, such as aerial and satellite imagery, in an effort to fulfill its responsibility of obtaining the FIA-required forest resource data. He will continue to consider proposals for the administrative use of helicopters from state and federal agencies, and other organizations on a case-by-case basis.

For more details contact Ken Post, Helicopter Access to Conduct FIA in Wilderness Team Leader, Alaska Regional Office, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, AK 99802, or call (907) 586-8796.