Forest Service, SEACC hold Couverden meetings

Posted: Thursday, March 18, 2004

The U.S. Forest Service and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council each held informational meetings about the proposed Couverden timber sale this week, bringing out some who say it's a reasonable offering to mills and others who call it unsustainable.

The timber sale, the first of its kind in the Juneau area in the past decade, would be about 30 air miles west of Juneau on the south Chilkat Peninsula along Icy Strait. The preferred alternative in the draft environmental impact statement calls for logging fewer than 800 acres and supplying 20 million board feet of timber to local sawmills.

Skagway resident Cory Thole, a member of a local conservation group there, attended the Forest Service's Tuesday public meeting to hear the agency's justification for the sale. Thole said he believes the sale is not a sustainable use of the forest, and expressed concern about the possibility of building more roads to implement it.

"Some of the alternatives (in the EIS) use only existing roads, and if there were to be any operations done, that would be the way to do it, not building new roads," Thole said.

Thole said he also attended the SEACC meeting, held later Tuesday evening, in order to submit spoken public comment. SEACC was unhappy with the Forest Service's decision not to hold a public hearing on the issue. The Forest Service has argued that written testimony is usually far more effective than spoken testimony.

SEACC member Jim Bentley of Juneau agreed.

"I feel if you really have a defensible stand either way, you should be able to get it down on paper. Public hearings tend to get out of hand," Bentley said.

Bentley said he supports the timber sale as a boost for the few remaining Southeast mills.

"I'd like to see a stable forest industry in Southeast that's tempered by our past experience 30, 40 years ago. Fifty-year contracts, we shouldn't go back to that," Bentley said.

About seven people showed up during the first hour of the three-hour meeting, and most were against the sale. Dave Carr of the Forest Service said about 25 people attended the meeting, and a couple submitted written comments. He said he didn't know what the comments said.

Emily Ferry of SEACC said about 20 people attended the SEACC meeting. The group had said it would record public comment and send it to the Forest Service, but ended up not doing so, Ferry said.

"It was more of a conversational style, more educational. I think the broader concern that was expressed throughout the meeting was just the fact that Forest Service was ignoring reality and that the Couverden timber sale was one of many timber sales being offered," she said.

She said everyone who attended the meeting opposed the sale.

Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, didn't return a call for comment by deadline.

Comments are due by March 29, and may be mailed to the Juneau Ranger District at 8465 Old Dairy Road; Juneau, AK; 99801-8041; faxed to (907) 586-8808, or e-mailed to comments-alaska-tongass-juneau@fs.fed.us. Oral comments also may be scheduled by contacting Dave Carr at the Juneau Ranger District at 586-8800.

• Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.



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