Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Exchange Near Completion

Alaska Delegation Applauds Final Stage of 20+ Year Effort

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young all R-Alaska, welcomed the finalization of approximately 45 miles of permanent access easements, which mark the completion of a long-running land exchange between the Alaska Mental Health Trust (AMHT) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS). This final step follows more than twenty years of work, including significant leadership and support from the Alaska Congressional Delegation and the State of Alaska. 

 “While my 2017 legislation accelerated the Alaska Mental Health Trust land exchange, this has been a very long effort, requiring collaboration from stakeholders, the State of Alaska, and the federal government alike,” Senator Murkowski said.  “After the many years of work that have gone into completing this land exchange, this announcement is welcomed news. It will provide timber for harvest in Southeast, protect viewsheds and local trails in our communities, and raise revenue for mental health services across the state. Today, I join so many Alaskans in celebrating the land exchange crossing the finish line, and the many opportunities it will afford Alaskans for years to come.”

“Alaska’s timber industry has been a consistent target of successive Democratic administrations in Washington,” Senator Sullivan said. “These easements will provide vital access for the Mental Health Trust to fully utilize lands exchanged under the 2017 Alaska Mental Health Land Exchange Act. This is finally some good news for the hard-working Alaskans of Southeast who rely on the timber economy, as well as for the vulnerable Alaskans across the state who utilize the critical services of the Alaska Mental Health Trust. I’m glad to see the completion of this exchange, which works to the benefit of the Mental Health Trust, the Forest Service, and, most importantly, Alaskans.”

"This is a great day for Alaska! Our state is home to a rich timber industry, which has historically provided needed revenues and economic opportunity in Southeast Alaska. Over the years, however, onerous federal regulations have reduced available timber supply, decreasing revenues and directly impacting services Alaskans depend on, including access to mental health care,” Congressman Young said. “In Congress, I have worked hard to ensure the USFS is not harming the Alaska Mental Health Trust by locking up harvestable timber. In the 115th Congress, I introduced a legislative fix that was enacted as part of the 2017 Consolidated Appropriations package. I am proud of our 'small but mighty' Delegation for getting it across the finish line. The completion of this land exchange is a true cause for celebration, and I am grateful for the hard work of Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, countless local leaders, and federal partners who worked with us in good faith. It is my great hope that through this newly available acreage, the Alaska Mental Health Trust can turn the tide in declining income and provide essential services to the Alaskans who need them most."

The easements exchanged today allow mutual use for AMHT and the USFS, while providing critical access to the new Trust lands and allowing continued public access to the USFS lands. The Trust will utilize its lands for timber sales, which provide revenue to the Trust to support its beneficiaries while providing crucial supply for Southeast Alaska’s remaining timber industry. With the contracts that are already in place, the Trust expects approximately 201 million board feet (MMBF) to be harvested from its newly acquired Trust lands.

Additional Background: The land exchange process formally began in 2011. Murkowski authored the legislation providing for the land exchange, which was enacted into law in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017. Phase 1 of the land exchange, completed in February 2019, transferred approximately 2,400 acres of National Forest land at Naukati on Prince of Wales Island to AMHT in exchange for 2,585 acres of AMHT land near Ketchikan. This phase protected old growth stands, viewshed and trail lands near Ketchikan for timberlands. Through timber sales on those acquired timberlands the AMHT raises revenue for mental health services in the state.

The balance of the exchange, Phase 2, was partially completed in April 2020 with conveyance of an additional 1,530 acres of USFS land to the AMHT in Naukati and an additional 3,020 acres (Parcel K-4 on Gravina Island) of AHMT land to the Forest Service near Ketchikan. The closing of Phase 2 took place in August 2021, marking the completion of the final acreage to be exchanged, with approximately 18,494 acres of national forest lands being conveyed to the AMHT and 17,980 acres of AMHT land being conveyed to the Forest Service.

All of the lands for exchange were collaboratively selected through work by local stakeholders, the AMHT, and the USFS.