The Forest Service today made a very poor decision for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the crown jewel of the country’s national forest system. Instead of implementing its 2010 transition plan that would move the 17-million-acre forest beyond large-scale old-growth logging, the federal agency — still stuck in the past — decided to offer nearly 150 million board feet of timber on more than 6,000 acres of old-growth fish and wildlife habitat for logging. Dubbed Big Thorne, it’s the largest timber sale in the Tongass since the days of the 1950s-era pulp mills that were guaranteed massive amounts of timber under 50-year contracts with the Forest Service.
The area slated for new clear-cutting is located near Thorne Bay and Coffman Cover on Prince of Wales Island, one of the worst-hit areas on the Tongass by logging and road construction. If allowed to occur, the Big Thorne timber sale will further threaten the area’s salmon and deer populations and harm the burgeoning tourism industry on Prince of Wales Island. Rather than offering more rare, old-growth rainforest for logging, the Forest Service ought to be making good on its pledge to transition into the region’s growth industries: fishing, tourism, recreation, visitor services, mariculture and alternative energy, according to Trout Unlimited.
“Given that Southeast Alaska salmon fishing supports more than 7,200 jobs and tourism supports another 10,000 jobs, and both are billion-dollar industries, it’s disappointing to see the Forest Service offer its largest old-growth timber sale since the pulp mills closed. This is a big step in the wrong direction for Southeast Alaska. It will further degrade several salmon streams, cause the loss of important deer habitat in an area where deer populations already fail to meet Forest Service standards, and end up costing U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars. Fishing and tourism are the real breadwinners in Southeast Alaska, and they depend on healthy salmon streams and wild scenery. The Forest Service needs to live up to the promise it made more than three years ago and put an end to this type of timber sale, ” said Austin Williams, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Forest Program manager.
According to Forest Service figures, the Tongass supports just 107 jobs in logging and milling at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $23 million annually in timber and road expenses. That’s more than $200,000 per job.
Members of the public who wish to voice concern about the Big Thorne timber sale should email Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org and Regional Forester Beth Pendleton at email@example.com.