What little logging that has been happening in the Tongass National Forest has been halted. When the federal government shut down after Congress didn’t pass a budget, most of the 400 U.S. Forest Service employees in the Tongass were furloughed. That means logs equal to about a million board feet of timber have been sitting in the water near a sawmill in Klawock, waiting to be released to Viking Lumber.
“They can’t come down and release them to us,” Viking Lumber President Bryce Dahlstrom said. “That wood is just going to sit in the water because we can’t pull them out of the water until the Forest Service releases them.”
The logs are from the Tonka timber sale in the Tongass near Petersburg. Dahlstrom said they received a cease and desist order on logging. The logs that were already in transit to the sawmill have to be released by a Forest Service employee. If the shutdown goes on for much longer, Dahlstrom said layoffs wouldn’t be far behind.
“We’re going to get into the winter and not be able to get done this year what we wanted to get done,” Dahlstrom said. “Then I’ve got a crew that doesn’t have work and that just dominoes down the line.”
It’s not just keeping workers employed that Dahlstrom has to worry about, he said. Teredos, also known as shipworms, will soon dig into the logs and make them worthless.
“They swim around in the water and if your wood is in there too long, they’ll get into your log and completely ruin it,” Dahsltrom said. “If we can’t get those out of the water soon then they’re just going to sit there.”
Dahlstrom said he’d hoped that by now crews would be logging the Big Thorne sale that Viking Lumber won the bid for back in June. Regional Forester Beth Pendleton halted that sale earlier this month pending a review of the status of the Alexander Archipelago wolf that lives on Prince of Wales Island.
Alcan Forest Products has also been forced to stop logging on Zarembo Island near Wrangell. Brian Brown, a partner in the company, said the shutdown on logging in the Tongass meant his company had to lay off several workers. Brown said they were able to move some workers to another logging site on state land.
“They’ve done considerable harm to our business,” he said of the federal government. “We have to look at how we’re going to proceed against them because when they shut us down they couldn’t even cite anything in the contract that gives them the right to do this, so we consider it to be illegal,” Brown said. “The Forest Service contracts can be hundreds of pages long and they got everything you can think of in there and they can’t even cite a clause for a reason to shut us down.”
Several timber companies recently filed suit against the Forest Service, saying that the government doesn’t have the authority under the federal timber sale contracts to halt logging. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the logging shutdown. Brown said even if the shutdown were to end today or an injunction were granted, it wouldn’t make a difference. He said the company had to make a decision to direct their resources to another site and that going back to Zarembo isn’t an option this year. With trees already on the ground, Brown said his crews would have to wait until the snow has melted to return. He said under normal circumstances they’d be able to return in the early spring since the trees can be felled onto the snow.
“We got to plan around it somehow,” Brown said. “Even if we got an injunction and they said we could go back to work, it’s not going to do us any good at this point.”