Alaska editorial: Timber sale

This editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

Does the U.S. Forest Service’s recent announcement about a potential Tongass National Forest timber sale signal the launch of yet another exercise in futility?

Southeast Alaskans with long memories might think so. We’ve seen the fate of many a proposed timber sale at the hands of legal action and policy shifts.

The proposed Big Thorne Project on Prince of Wales Island might be an exception.

With great luck, the project could become, in the words of Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole, “an important bridge” to the agency’s goal of a sustainable, young-growth supported timber program in Southeast Alaska.

That’s a big responsibility for a single timber sale, even one that’s proposed to supply about 123 million board feet of timber over a period of up to 10 years. The average annual timber sale volume offered from the entire Tongass National Forest during the past decade (2002-11 was about 55.3 million board feet. The average annual purchase volume was about 43.2 million.

With some good luck, Big Thorne could prove to be at least a viable lifeline for what timber industry remains in Southeast Alaska.

Cole seems keenly aware of the stakes.

“The importance of this project cannot be overstated,” Cole said in announcing the Big Thorne Project draft Environmental Impact Statement process. “It is the first project in many years that has real potential to provide stability to the local timber industry in Southeast Alaska, and the rural communities that benefit from that industry.”

According to the Forest Service, the alternatives being considered in the draft EIS involve a mix of old-growth and young-growth timber harvesting from about 5,000 acres of national forest lands in areas between Coffman Cove, Thorne Bay and Control Lake.

Will it fly?

Owen Graham of the pro-timber Alaska Forest Association has expressed cautious optimism about the proposed sale, but anticipates legal challenges from environmental groups.

A representative of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council told KRBD that the group still is reviewing the draft EIS.

The public at large can express its own views now.

The Forest Service draft EIS process has a 45-day public review and comment period. The draft EIS itself is available on the Forest Service website at: www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project(equals)31542.

We hope that interested members of the public will take a look at the proposed Big Thorne Project.

It appears the Forest Service has developed a timber project worthy of broad approval. Its stated goals of sustaining the existing industry, attracting new investment and assisting in the transition toward more young-growth harvests should draw support from all sides of the timber debate.

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