After years of debate and waiting, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to approve the Big Thorne timber sale. The decision has supporters rejoicing that the Southeast timber industry could make a comeback. As for opponents of the sale, they say the decision is bad for salmon streams and local deer populations.
Tongass Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole said the decision to allow 6,186 acres of old-growth and 2,299 acres of young-growth to be harvested was necessary for better management of the forest. Cole also said the decision would stabilize the declining Southeast timber industry for the next six to 10 years.
“By providing a stable supply of timber to the industry now, we are giving the Forest Service and the industry the breathing space needed to prepare for the transition to young growth timber,” Cole said.
Cole said that the Forest Service believes the decision will allow the industry time to assess demand and cultivate markets for young-growth timber.
“The Forest recognizes the importance of this project and its effects on the people in the region, particularly to communities on Prince of Wales Island,” Cole said. “Timber plays an important role in the economy and culture of Southeast Alaska.”
Cole said the sale would create over 600 jobs.
Senator Mark Begich released a statement in favor of the decision.
“A sale of this size will provide some sorely needed stability for the timber industry in Southeast Alaska,” the statement read. “Providing a timber supply over a number of years should be of benefit to both medium and small saw mill operators, and help enhance economic diversification efforts for communities in Southeast Alaska.”
Conservationists, however, are very much against the decision.
“Fishing and tourism are the real breadwinners in Southeast Alaska, and they depend on healthy salmon streams and wild scenery,” said Austin Williams of Trout Unlimited in an e-mailed statement.
The Alaska Audubon Society expressed concern that the decision to harvest Big Thorne old-growth would endanger a subspecies of the gray wolf and a subspecies of the northern goshawk that are both indigenous to the area.
“The U.S. Forest Service can help avoid this by quickly and truly transitioning out of cutting our last relatively stands of rare, old trees,” said Policy Director Jim Adams in an e-mailed statement.
The Forest Service will hold meetings in the communities of Thorne Bay, Coffman Cove and Ketchikan to further discuss the sale.
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