The U.S. Forest Service’s proposed Tonka Timber Sale is open for public review, and it may not be a moment too soon.
While the Forest Service describes its Tongass timber sale as a step in a new direction and a savior of jobs and mills in Southeast Alaska, some conservation groups and small mills see the sale as business as usual — more round log exports without industry buildup in Southeast communities.
The proposed 62,150-acre Tonka Timber Sale area is located on the Lindenberg Peninsula of Kupreanof Island.
Four alternatives are described in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. In these alternatives the Forest Service would make available between 25.2 million and 53.4 million board feet of timber for harvest.
The preferred alternative designates approximately 39.6 million board feet for harvest on about 2,136 acres. It would require the construction of 1.7 miles of National Forest System roads and 7.6 miles of temporary roads. None of the alternatives require road construction in roadless areas.
Tongass timber industry has declined over the last few decades, most dramatically with the end of 50-year timber contracts and the closing of Southeast’s large pulp mills. The Tonka sale is seen as a balm for communities hit hard by the decline, according to a Forest Service press release.
“We’re looking at potentially between 116 and 247 annual jobs supported by this timber sale,” said Forrest Cole, Tongass Forest Supervisor. “Tonka stands to keep local mills and timber operators in business for years to come.”
Larry Jackson owns Tongass Forest Enterprises, a small lumber mill near Ketchikan. He said he has tried to create a business that buys as many logs as possible from local logging operations.
“So every log I buy that isn’t exported is a win,” Jackson said. “We use a couple hundred thousand board feet a year. A very small amount compared to the Tonka sale,” he said.
Jackson said he is not opposed to a large sale like Tonka, “I just do not like large exports of logs,” he said.
Large harvests in the past have set up a pattern of round-log export, he said. Southeast Alaska had exported 23.7 million board feet of round logs from federal land in the first quarter of 2011.
Jackson said the typical argument is Southeast Alaska can’t have a timber industry because the region doesn’t have a stable timber supply.
“We need to create an industry that can use those logs. More supply isn’t going to create that industry,” he said.
Jackson said he would rather see a Southeast timber industry that replicates the value-added marketing commercial fishermen did with Wild Alaska Salmon.
The Forest Service has described the sale as a key project in its Transition Framework, a multi-agency United States Department of Agriculture effort “to diversify local economies,” according to Forest Cole, forest supervisor for the Tongass National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service Alaska Region web page describes the transition as helping “communities transition to a more diversified economy by providing jobs around renewable energy, forest restoration, timber, tourism, subsistence, and fisheries and mariculture.”
The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council supports the Forest Services Transition Framework, the transition from old growth logging to community-based second growth logging, said Bob Claus, SEACC Forest Program Director. However, he said, at first look the Tonka sale doesn’t seem to deal with transition.
The amount of timber in the Tonka sale would support local mills with timber for about 30 years of value-added work, Claus said, “which is good. I would much rather see that happen, than all the timber cut in a couple years and exported,” he said.
Claus said he believes the Tonka sale is business as usual. It’s a legacy sale, similar to Wrangell and Big Thorne timber sales, part of the planning process from before the Forest Service started working on the Transition Framework.
“[SEACC] would be interested to work with the Forest Service in a meaningful way to provide stewardship opportunities for this timber sale,” Clause said. “But to date we have not.”
The 45-calendar-day comment period begins the day after the publication of the Notice of Availability in the Federal Register. View the draft environmental impact statement at www.fs.fed.us.
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.