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ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Forest Service has approved a timber sale to collect trees blown down by a 2001 storm in a roadless area of the Tongass National Forest.
The timber sale would require building a temporary road through the Yakutat Foreland that would be obliterated after the harvest is completed, according to the Forest Service.
The blowdown area is 566 acres near the upper Situk River near Yakutat. An estimated 6 million board feet of timber knocked down by the storm could be recovered, said to forester Patrick Heuer, who led the project.
"The longer it sits out there, the less value it has," Heuer said Wednesday. "We need to capture the value of this timber before it deteriorates and isn't worth anything."
The decision, issued Monday by Yakutat District Ranger Tricia O'Connor, must go through a 45-day appeal process. After that period, the project will be advertised and bids solicited, Heuer said.
An 8.4-mile temporary road would be built to collect the timber. After the project is finished, the road will be recontoured to match the surrounding landscape and organic material scattered over the surface, according to the Forest Service.
Conservationists fear the road could hurt the Situk River's steelhead population and affect the livelihood of Yakutat residents, who fish the river.
"Building roads, whether they're temporary or permanent, into roadless areas has significant environmental effects," said Buck Lindekugel, conservation director for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
Heuer said an environmental assessment determined that obliterating the road after the harvest was completed would not alter the roadless character of the area.
The 2001 windstorm blew down trees on nearly 6,000 acres of forest, but with the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in effect, only trees near areas with roads could be harvested, Forest Service officials said.
The Tongass National Forest was exempted from the roadless rule earlier this year.
Lindekugel said Wednesday that he had not seen the decision, but expected an appeal would be filed.