Sealaska criticizes planned timber sale

Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The state and Sealaska Corp. raised environmental and economic concerns in initial comments on a draft for a proposed timber sale on Etolin Island, about 22 miles southwest of Wrangell.

"It appears that none of the alternatives are economically viable," wrote Michele Metz, assistant land manager for Sealaska Corp., Southeast Alaska's regional Native corporation.

Forest Service officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In a draft environmental impact statement, the Forest Service proposed six options for the Navy timber sale. Under these options, the amount of logging would range from 18.7 to 97.9 million board feet of timber.

Last year the timber industry harvested about 50 million board feet of wood from the Tongass National Forest, according to the Alaska Forest Association, an industry group.

Harvesting under the Navy timber sale could span 1,322 to 7,800 acres. Up to 19.9 miles of new roads and 17.5 miles of temporary roads could be built.

Under all the plans, timber would be hauled to Anita Bay, on the northeast coast of Etolin Island, loaded on barges and shipped out. Several options proposed building new transfer facilities, though not under the Forest Service's preferred plan.

That plan offered the sale of 36 million board feet on 2,514 acres. It would require about 10 miles of new road to be built, mostly on lands that have never been harvested.

State agencies wrote repeatedly in their comments that the Forest Service plan didn't give them enough information to assess the sale's potential effects on wildlife.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game called some parts of the plan "confusing" and in some cases "misleading." One major concern was that the pinch-point, a narrow point on the island used by wildlife as a corridor, between Anita Bay and Burnett Inlet, would not be protected enough in any of the options.

Fish and Game supported two of the options given, neither of which was preferred by the Forest Service.

The Alaska Coastal Management Program was concerned that the Forest Service's road construction plan, especially on steep terrain, wouldn't meet state drainage requirements, and could be harmful to fish spawning streams.

The state Office of Habitat Management and Permitting said the plan's maps didn't provide enough detail to properly assess how logging there would affect fish. Nor was there enough information about the fisheries in the area.

The Navy timber sale was offered under the guidelines of the Tongass Land Management Plan of 1997, which is set to expire soon. The Forest Service is expected to release a new 10-year plan for the Tongass National Forest this month. Under the current plan, 22 percent of the forest's 17 million acres are in areas open to harvest, according to the Forest Service Web site. Resource protections limit harvest to 676,000 acres over the next 100 years.

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