Legislation to Protect Alaska’s Forested Lands Becomes Law
HB 355 Increases Accountability for the Burning of Forested Lands in Alaska
FAIRBANKS—Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed legislation into law updating the penalties for burning offenses on publicly and privately forested land in Alaska. House Bill 355 was sponsored by Representative David Guttenberg (D-Fairbanks) and passed the Alaska Legislature this year with significant bipartisan support.
“Alaska cannot afford to keep having wildland fires the size of Delaware. They result in millions of dollars in fire suppression costs for the State of Alaska and an invaluable amount of time and property damage for Alaskans. In 2015, 5.2 million acres were burned nationwide. Over half of those acres were burned in Alaska,” said Rep. Guttenberg. “This bill updates statutes that have not been updated in decades and provides a much-needed increase in accountability.”
Before the signing of HB 355, state law characterized all burning offenses in Alaska as unclassified misdemeanors. Penalties included between 10 days to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,000 and a mandatory court appearance. HB 355 replaces that system with a new tiered enforcement structure like how the state handles fish and game violations. Additionally, the bill specifies the circumstances under which someone can be charged with the felonies of criminal burning of forested land in the first degree or second degree. HB 355 calls on the Alaska Supreme Court to establish a bail schedule for offenses under the new enforcement structure to allow for citations to be resolved without a court appearance.
“We needed to create a more efficient tiered enforcement system because our courts are overloaded, and it is inefficient to require mandatory court appearances for minor burning offenses,” said Rep. Guttenberg.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has pledged to absorb the costs associated with implementing the new enforcement system, which means there will be no additional cost to the State of Alaska.
House Bill 355 passed the Alaska Legislature this year with broad bipartisan support and was signed into law by Alaska Governor Bill Walker during a ceremony on the Initial Attack Fire Operations Helipad in Fairbanks.