A second timber sale in the Tongass National Forest's Petersburg District is now on hold due to a deficiency in environmental plans.
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The U.S. Forest Service's Alaska Regional Forester Dennis Bschor on Monday reversed Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole's approval of an 8 million-board-foot timber sale north of Petersburg on Kupreanof Island.
Bschor's decision stemmed from an appeal of the project, called the Scott Peak timber sale, filed by Tongass National Forest biologist Glen Ith.
The biologist, who filed his appeal as a private citizen, says the final environmental impact study for the Scott Peak sale didn't take a hard look at cumulative harm from adjacent proposed and historic clearcuts in the vicinity.
"I really do believe that Cole is a good decision maker ... but I question the information that he had in that (study)," Ith said Tuesday. "This in a watershed that has had four timber harvests in just over two decades."
Bschor directed Cole Monday to conduct additional cumulative studies on the Scott Peak project.
Last month, the Tongass temporarily withdrew another timber decision appealed by Ith, the Overlook timber sale on Mitkof Island. In that case, the Forest Service built a road to access the proposed 5.1 million-board-foot timber sale without going through a proper environmental review, Ith said.
Petersburg District Ranger Patty Grantham contends that the road building is legal and the Overlook sale's environmental study only needs clarification of its language on road building.
In late March, Ith joined up with the Eugene, Ore.-based whistleblower group, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, in a lawsuit to block the Overlook and other similar timber sales where road building is underway without an environmental review.
Similar to Overlook, only minor changes are needed to fix the problem with the Scott Peak sale, Grantham said. She estimated that it would take a couple of months for the district to update the document to include effects from other timber sales.
One of the projects that didn't get analyzed in the Scott Peak environmental study is the Todahl-Backline timber sale. It is located in the next watershed, Grantham said. Grantham said Tongass officials already consider cumulative harm from the Todahl-Backline timber sale "insignificant."
Environmentalists dispute her contention that the problems are minor.
"Basically, (Scott Peak) is another example where the Forest Service has underestimated the impacts from timber sales on other uses," said Corrie Bosman, conservation director for the Sitka Conservation Society.
The Sitka-based society and several other environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Juneau chapter of the Sierra Club, filed their own appeal of the Scott Peak sale. One of their major arguments was that the timber clearcuts would harm deer.
A Forest Service appeal officer rejected all of the groups' claims. The officer, Paul Brewster, only agreed with Ith's critique on cumulative harm.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at email@example.com.
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