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The Tongass National Forest supervisor has agreed to offer precedent-setting small timber sales east of Gustavus that are designed to meet a local demand for lumber.
"This is the first of its kind on the Juneau Ranger District," said Pete Griffin, Juneau district ranger for the forest.
"We're kind of excited about the possibilities in helping out the small timber operators," he added.
Small-scale timber sales have become popular with independent timber operators elsewhere in the Tongass, such as nearby in Hoonah and to the south on Prince of Wales Island.
They've also gained kudos from Southeast Alaska environmentalists who find them preferable to large clearcuts.
"They are supporting local economies with these smaller timber sales. We think it's a great direction that they are heading in," said Beth Peluso, with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
But until this month's announcement, small timber sales haven't been tried in the Juneau Ranger District, which has had few timber sales at all in recent years. The Point Couverden timber project, originally proposed as large clearcuts, is the first major timber sale in the Juneau district since 1992, according to Griffin.
Taking cues from a detailed proposal offered last March by Gustavus residents, Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole decided to break up Point Couverden's large proposed timber sales into smaller units and exclude logging in designated roadless areas at Point Couverden, which abuts Icy Passage.
The smaller timber operators in Southeast Alaska cannot handle the size of a typical Tongass clearcut, which can comprise 1 million to 30 million board-feet of wood. That timber is typically exported out of Alaska.
"This decision virtually guarantees a wood supply for local small mills over the next 10 years if they choose to take advantage of it," Cole said in his record of decision on the timber sales.
Sawmill operators in Gustavus have stated their support for the small-scale logging proposal but could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
If possible, Tongass timber should be used locally, said Greg Streveler, the main architect of the Gustavus proposal for small-scale logging at Point Couverden.
The primary need for timber in Gustavus is dimensional lumber for local construction projects, he said.
Last winter, Gustavus residents got a personal visit from Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole, who said he would make small timber sales a priority at Point Couverden.
The result is a blueprint for timber harvests at Point Couverden that would lay out a series of 50,000- or 100,000-board-foot sales, Griffin said.
It doesn't preclude the Juneau Ranger District from offering large timber sales in the area. "We are reserving that right," said Dave Carr, timber staff officer for the ranger district. The priority will be on feeding the local timber operators a diet of digestible small sales that could grow the capacity of their industry, he said.
"This has got good potential to start some small businesses in the area," Carr said.
The onus now is on the Gustavus community to make the small sales program work at Point Couverden, Streveler said. "If not, we'll be back to usual - big timber sales with no local opportunity."
"The Forest Service deserves a lot of credit for doing the right thing," said Jim Mackovjak, a veteran Tongass activist and one of the original proponents of the community-based timber proposal for Point Couverden.