Alaska’s new state forester Helge Eng grew up in Oslo, Norway which is nearly the same latitude as Anchorage.
CAPTION: Helge Eng joined the Department of Natural Resources on June 2 as director of the Division of Forestry and Alaska state forester, after a 21-year career at California’s forest management and wildlife firefighting agency. (Photo courtesy of Department of Natural Resources)
“I’ve always considered Alaska kind of home in the sense that I was born and raised in a similar climate,” he told CoastAlaska in a recent interview from Anchorage.
He just finished a 21-year career in California where despite making his home in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the dry heat spells were hard to escape.
“That wall of heat of 105 degrees is not something you really get used to,” Eng said. “So, coming up here, it’s a welcome change. And it’s like coming home for me.”
Eng spent more than 20 years working for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection — known as Cal Fire. He was in charge of resource management which researched different timber practices on state lands.
Now as Alaska’s state forester, he oversees the roughly 260-strong Division of Forestry which is in charge of fire protection and regulating logging on state and private lands. His division is attached to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and is charged with preparing timber sales on state lands to supply local industry.
He’s preparing to meet with U.S. Forest Service officials next month to discuss the impacts from the Biden administration’s recent announcement that it plans to reinstate the Roadless Rule for Tongass National Forest which could curtail old growth logging on federal lands.
“We are continuing to work actively, as my predecessor did, to re-reinvigorate a timber industry in Southeast,” Eng said.
Clear-cut logging of old-growth forests is controversial. And there’s been increasing scrutiny of projects on Prince of Wales Island and other parts of Southeast.
Eng says it’s his job to make sure all voices are heard before making critical land-use decisions.
“There are several points of view on forest management and timber harvesting,” he said. “And I do think it’s important that all of those uses are represented and all the voices are heard. So, rest assured, there will be ample opportunity for public inputs into all of the state’s harvest decisions.”
As in California, which has been devastated by wildfires, his job here will also include wildland fire protection. That was a point underscored by his boss, DNR Commissioner Corri Feige who released a statement earlier this month announcing his recruitment.
“State foresters in Alaska and California share similar challenges in fighting wildfire to protect lives and property, and similar opportunities in managing vast forest resources to benefit industry, wildlife, and recreation,” Feige said in a June 2 statement. “We are fortunate to have Helge Eng bring his experience north to Alaska to lead our Division of Forestry in its continued success in achieving these goals on behalf of Alaskans.”
Eng replaces outgoing state forester Chris Maisch who served for 21 years before retiring in February.