KETCHIKAN - A 600-acre timber sale at Emerald Bay on the north end of the Cleveland Peninsula has received a green-light from the U.S. Forest Service, though opponents say it likely will be appealed.
In a decision issued Monday, Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole approved the 16.4-million-board-foot timber sale about 40 air miles north of Ketchikan. The project calls for clearcutting and single-tree selective harvest. The Forest Service estimates the project will provide 86 jobs.
The Emerald Bay sale proposal dates back to 1998. An earlier version of the project was reversed in 2002 by the Forest Service's regional office after an appeal by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Society and The Wilderness Society. The project also was affected by a national roadless rule and a Tongass wilderness study.
Ketchikan Misty Fiords District Ranger Lynn Kolund said the Forest Service wants to move forward with the sale.
"Its location on the north end of the Cleveland makes it equal distance from Ketchikan and Wrangell, so there's a reasonable assurance it might sell to mills at either location," he said. "It is an economically viable alternative, which is important in these times."
The project calls for six miles of new road within a roadless area, including two miles of road in an old-growth reserve. The roads would be allowed to revegetate after the sale. It also calls for a land-to-barge log transfer facility in Emerald Bay that would be removed when work is finished. The sale would affect less than 2 percent of the 191,447-acre Cleveland Roadless area, according to the Forest Service.
Kolund said the road in the old-growth reserve has been a concern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service has met with representatives from the agency.
"The forest plan allows (it) when there's no other feasible alternative," he said.
Cole's decision said the Forest Service analyzed five alternatives to access the sale area. Other options required two to three times more road, and were not feasible because of the cost and environmental effects. Three of the routes required road construction over steep, rugged terrain, and four of the proposed routes would have gone through old-growth, Cole wrote.
Meanwhile, the Forest Service is revisiting the Tongass forest plan after a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year. The court said the forest plan is flawed because it misinterpreted timber demand projections for Southeast Alaska.
SEACC Conservation Director Buck Lindekugel said he is disappointed the Forest Service is moving forward with Emerald Bay in light of the 9th Circuit decision.
"It really calls into question the purpose and need for proceeding with this timber sale," he said. "This type of road building will significantly affect recreation and wildlife."
Lindekugel said he expects the Emerald Bay decision will be appealed. He also questions whether there will be demand for the sale given its distance from sawmills in Wrangell and Ketchikan.
"It just doesn't make sense," he said. "They ought be putting resources together to prepare areas that are already developed, that already have a road infrastructure, rather than wasting it on an area like the Cleveland."
Kolund, of the Ketchikan Ranger District, said the 9th Circuit decision didn't enjoin the Tongass timber program, and there are fewer recreation and subsistence conflicts at Emerald Bay than in other areas. Many areas of the Ketchikan district, such as Carroll Inlet and North Revilla, already have been or are in the process of being logged.
"We can't keep going back to the same areas," he said.
Delaying Emerald Bay and other projects because of the 9th Circuit decision would undermine the Forest Service's ability to respond to timber demand, Cole wrote in the project decision.
The decision is subject to a 45-day appeal period.