U.S. Forest Service seeks comment on Couverden timber sale

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2002

The U.S. Forest Service is planning a timber sale that would harvest about 25 million board feet of timber from Point Couverden. If approved, it would be the first such sale harvested in the Juneau area in the past decade, according to the agency.

The timber sale project is about 30 air miles west of Juneau on the south Chilkat Peninsula along Icy Strait. Part of the area was logged in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Alaska Pulp Co. The sale would cover about 1,500 acres of land, targeting hemlock and spruce.

The Forest Service, which is in the initial stages of planning the sale, hosted an informal meeting about the project Monday in Juneau. Meetings are scheduled for Hoonah tonight and Gustavus on Wednesday.

A draft plan should be out by February and the agency is evaluating the project's impact on fish streams and wildlife, according to resource forester Stan McCoy. Moose, black bear and wolves live in the area, he said.

The Couverden project is part of the Forest Service's 10-year timber-sale program on the Tongass. The agency is looking at the area because some roads already have been built, the project avoids controversial roadless areas, and it provides better economic opportunities for timber companies than do other areas in the district, McCoy said.

The project would build up to five miles of new road, three miles of temporary road and reconstruct 19 miles of existing road. The Forest Service also would fix roads and culverts that block fish passage in the area, Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin said.

Timber would be harvested in clearcuts or partial cuts, depending on the location, and the sale would use an existing log-transfer facility, McCoy said. Logs would be loaded directly onto barges and would not be dumped into the water.

Most Tongass timber sales have been offered in southern and central Southeast Alaska in recent years. In general, timber from the southern half of the Tongass has more value and is closer to processors, Griffin said.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is concerned about the viewshed, fisheries and wildlife in the Couverden project area, but also is uncertain who would buy a sale that contains so much low-value hemlock, grassroots organizer Matthew Davidson said in an interview.

"The Juneau Ranger District under (the Tongass Land Management Plan) has to provide a certain amount of timber," he said. "Whether anyone is going to buy it is a question."

Errol Champion, general manager of the aviation division of Silver Bay, which operates a sawmill in Wrangell, said it is too early to make economic assumptions about the proposal. An operator interested in the sale would need to evaluate the volume of timber by species and grade, he said in an interview.

"Better grades of hemlock and spruce will always sell," he said. "It is farther removed from manufacturing facilities in Southeast, but the quality of wood, if it exists, could offset transportation costs."

The Forest Service is accepting public comment on the sale proposal through Sept. 15. For more information, contact the Juneau Ranger District office.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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