Work is at a standstill for a handful of people at the Kuakan timber sale on Deer Island, 35 miles south of Wrangell.
Columbia Helicopters set up a floating camp at Kuakan three weeks ago. Workers had cut one unit of timber when a federal court ruling and a U.S. Forest Service order halted logging operations Tongass-wide.
"We moved in all for a big expense and we're just sitting here now," said saw boss Bob Lappin. The shutdown is hurting his workers, who are paid by the piece, he said.
Lappin has been coming to Alaska from Idaho for the last 10 years to work in the woods. He said he's in emotional shock.
"I've never seen anything like this in my life," he said.
Project manager Chip Cook is supposed to be running a boat and tug to make log booms. Now he's making sure bears stay away from the camp's water line and keeping watch over the equipment.
"It was very startling and sudden - no warning," he said. "I'd like to see the people (who did this) have to pay a fine or our costs."
The Kuakan sale is supposed to take most of the summer to log and Columbia planned to hire 47 people for the project. The sale allows the harvest of 12 million board feet of timber from approximately 1,350 acres by helicopter, according to the Forest Service. The island will remain unroaded after the harvest is complete, according to agency documents.
The status of Tongass logging operations rests with U.S. District Court Judge James Singleton Jr., who enjoined the Forest Service from altering the wilderness character of eligible roadless areas until a supplemental environmental impact statement is prepared. The Forest Service, with support from the state of Alaska, has asked the court to remove the injunction. The conservation groups that won the wilderness protections have asked the court to clarify the ruling, suggesting a complete logging shutdown is extreme.
Mark Rorick, chairman of Juneau's Sierra Club, said the Forest Service has improperly applied the injunction. The environmental groups' lawsuit was intended to uphold the values of wilderness as outlined by federal statute, he said.
Roadless areas have economic, recreation and subsistence value, Rorick said.
"The economy is transitioning so that the economic value that results from these areas is becoming more and more apparent. And it's contrasted sharply by the amount of money it takes to set these sales up," he said.
The wood at Kuakan is headed for Viking Lumber's sawmill outside of Klawock, where manager Kirk Dahlstrom and his 40 employees are waiting for news about the status of Tongass logging operations. The suspension means uncertainty for customers who depend on a certain mix of wood for their operations. A logging shutdown hurts supply, Dahlstrom said.
"We've continued business as usual so far, but we've had almost a three-week delay in logging. Because of that, there will be a three-week shutdown of the sawmill sometime in the future," he said. "We won't have the proper species of logs to fill customers' orders on a monthly basis."
The Prince of Wales Island mill processes hemlock, spruce and red cedar. Viking's customers use the wood for panel doors, windows and moldings, Dahlstrom said. The shutdown has brought other worries. Viking is building a small log mill for wood studs to sell in Alaska and elsewhere, Dahlstrom said. The project is a $3 million investment.
"In my heart I feel that the injunction might be lifted, if there's any sense. So we're continuing with construction," he said.
But if the injunction stays in place, Dahlstrom said the sawmill likely will close.
"If that injunction is not lifted, it is the end," he said.
An extended shutdown at the Klawock mill could affect Alaska Power and Telephone. Prince of Wales Island region general manager Jay Hansen said Viking Lumber uses 15 percent of the total electric supply from the Black Bear Lake hydroelectric project. A long shutdown could mean more expensive electric rates to AP&T's 2,200 customers on the island, he said. Job losses could also make his company's customer base smaller, he said.
Silver Bay Logging Co.'s sawmill in Wrangell, Pacific Log and Lumber's sawmill near Ketchikan, Whitestone Logging's sawmill near Hoonah, and Gateway Forest Products of Ketchikan also are affected by the shutdown, according to court documents.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.