When the Forest Service began planning a new round of timber sales for the Couverden area, Gustavus residents took notice. Gustavus residents are all too familiar with the last Couverden sale. During 1984-85, the Forest Service put in almost 30 miles of road and eight bridges at Couverden, spending 5.5 million of taxpayers' dollars. The sale drew no bidders. When the Forest Service finally found a buyer, the price was reduced to base rates and garnered a mere $113,000 (barely 2 percent). Unfortunately, the current Forest Service proposal for Couverden is doomed to a worse fate.
The current market for Tongass timber is virtually nonexistent. Sales routinely receive one, or zero, bids, and the industry recently sold 20 sales back to the Forest Service since they couldn't sell them. In the current Couverden DEIS (p. 2-12), the Forest Service admits, "none of the proposed alternatives are economically viable under current market conditions." To make this sale (which is predominantly low-grade hemlock) even remotely attractive, the Forest Service will likely sell at base rates and offer a round log export permit, guaranteeing the continued loss of millions of taxpayers' money with little, if any, benefit to the local economy. Which begs the question, "Who is the Forest Service laying out this sale for?"
Since 2002, several Gustavus residents have assembled a proposal for the Couverden area. An incomplete sketch of our proposal was included by the Forest Service as Alternative 5 in their DEIS. The premise of our alternative is that Couverden is the last chance to make some sense of timber management on public lands in our area. The eastern edge of Icy Strait is open for logging. Of that, the Forest Service and Native corporations have hammered NE Chichagof. Gustavus has little timber and most is privately owned in small parcels. Couverden is our remaining possibility on public lands. The Forest Service is off to a bad start here, allowing two poorly conceived sales that have taken a big bite out of the timber base. However, there is some timber left and a potential oppurtunity. Now is the time to see that the Forest Service doesn't continue to clearcut away our future options and sell them for a song to exporters, while costing the taxpayers millions.
The Gustavus Citizens Alternative attempts to make ecological and economic sense of timber management at Couverden that factors in the needs and opportunities for our region. Please check out alternative 5 in the Couverden DEIS. We'd appreciate your support. Comments are due March 29.