Cherry-picking timber in the Tongass

My turn

Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2001

In Tuesday's article on the Kuakan timber sale written (well written in my opinion) by Joanna Markell, I was quoted as criticizing the Forest Service for what the Sierra Club, and our attorneys in the lawsuit, regard as a misinterpretation by the Forest Service of Judge Singleton's ruling halting timber sales in roadless areas. I want to make it clear that we do not think Judge Singleton's injunction was misapplied in the case of the Kuakan timber sale. My criticism was directed at the Forest Service's halting sales in areas where logging roads have been built and the application of Judge Singleton's injunction is too late to prevent the alteration of the wilderness character of the formally roadless areas in question.

This aside, I think a little more information on the sale may be of interest to your readers. Most noteworthy is that the sale has a 42 percent cedar component. This means that nearly half the sale volume could be exported without any in-state processing. Indeed, a permit has been applied for by Viking Lumber to export all of the 3 million board feet of yellow cedar located in the sale units. When cedar is exported, it results in no Alaskan mill jobs, but only in the jobs immediately involved in the cutting and transportation of the round logs. It is also noteworthy, as in the case of the Kuakan saw boss, that many of the jobs in the cutting and transportation phase of Southeast Alaskan timber operations are filled by seasonal workers from out-of-state.

The Kuakan sale is a good example of the Forest Service's recent practice of high grading their sales for trees exempt from in-state processing requirements, as is the case with yellow cedar. Indeed, the typical species composition in the Wrangell area for yellow and red cedar combined is approximately 7 percent of the volume, which contrasts sharply with the Kuakan sale units which are comprised of 42 percent cedar. For other species the Forest Service has been granting exemptions to in state processing requirements pretty much whenever they are asked to. It seems that cherry picking the most valuable stands of trees out of the forest's roadless areas, and shipping them out of state or to Asia, is the best way to ensure that operators can maximize their profits even with the depressed market for Alaska wood products that exists today The Forest Service does this even though these roadless area sales are hugely expensive and have taxpayer subsidy rates ranging upwards of $180 per 1,000 board feet. As a result of this policy, we are losing not only our most valuable trees and destroying roadless areas in the process, but are paying large sums of money for the privilege of cutting them down and shipping them out.

Mark Rorick is the chairman of Juneau's Sierra Club.

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