Groups appeal Prince of Wales logging plan

Tongass timber sales continue drawing fire, despite long-term forest management plan

Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2009

Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole hoped a new management plan for the Tongass would alleviate a decades-long litany of lawsuits filed over logging.

That doesn't appear likely.

Local and national conservation groups are challenging the Logjam timber sale on Prince of Wales Island, one of the first timber sales Cole approved since the agency passed its long-term management plan for the Tongass.

The sale has drawn four separate appeals from several groups, including the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Sitka Conservation Society, Oregon-based Cascadia Wildlands, and the Juneau chapter of the Sierra Club, which joined with Greenpeace and the Tongass Conservation Society. The appeal deadline was Monday.

The appeals go to Cole's boss, Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor, who is expected to issue a decision by Sept. 24, his staff said.

The Logjam project area is located on Prince of Wales Island, northeast of the community of Thorne Bay. It covers about 56,133 acres mostly within the Thorne Bay Ranger District.

The Forest Service announced in a June ruling it would allow 75 million board-feet to be harvested from about 3,400 acres and about 29 miles of new roads. The Forest Service said it would revitalize the island economy by helping develop the timber contracts needed to supply local mill operators and the wood-products industry.

SEACC, whose appeal includes the Audobon Alaska and the Alaska Wilderness League, said the ruling allows too much cutting.

Their preferred approach would allow about 30 million board-feet while balancing the need for jobs, economic timber supply and healthy fish and wildlife populations, the groups said. It also would protect links between blocks of old-growth habitat around Sweetwater Lake that they said are important for deer.

Cole acknowledged the conservation groups worked with his agency and the timber industry to put forth their plan for the timber sale, but what they came up with doesn't offer enough timber to sustain any logging operations, he said.

"While it was a great attempt at collaboration, it didn't look beyond more than one to two years of wood supply," Cole said. "We're going to have to look beyond a hand-to-mouth relationship in terms of products available to keep the industry alive."

SEACC Executive Director Lindsey Ketchel said that one year of wood supply is better than none.

"Giving one year of timber out and available without delay makes a lot of sense," she said.

"We recognize that the mills need timber," she added, "and we're really trying to make this work and get out of the old patterns and behaviors."

The Tongass is the largest of the nation's national forests and its timber the most fought over. Legal battles brought by conservation groups are largely blamed for the near-disappearance of timber jobs in Southeast.

Everyone agrees the days of logging large swaths of old-growth timber are gone. What's left is the hope that smaller operations serving local markets with specialized products might help put some people to work.

In some areas of the American West, conservation groups have begun working with timber harvesters to get deals on the table both sides can live with, so people can go to work while important natural resources are preserved.

Ketchel said that is happening with the Tongass Futures Roundtable, but it is not reflected in the Logjam timber sale.

Last month, Bschor reversed Cole's decision on the Navy Timber Sale scheduled for Etolin Island, located between Wrangell and Prince of Wales Island. That sale would have allowed the harvest of 73 million board-feet of timber. Four conservation groups had appealed the ruling.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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