Released on July 1, the proposed Big Thorne timber sale is located on heavily-logged Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska, an area with deer, wolf and salmon populations impacted from multiple decades of past logging. The Big Thorne sale would allow nearly 6,200 acres of old-growth and 2,299 acres of second-growth forest to be logged on the central part of the island. The area is sandwiched between existing clear-cuts. It is the largest timber sale in the Tongass National Forest since the region’s two large pulp mills closed in the 1990s.
“Big Thorne, as it stands now, is a huge step backwards for the Tongass. Southeast Alaska’s economy revolves around fishing and tourism and this large timber sale directly threatens the jobs and revenue those industries produce. It makes no sense from an economic or ecological standpoint,” said Austin Williams, Trout Unlimited’s Forest Program Manager, who filed the appeal.
Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation group, notes in its appeal that Big Thorne threatens not only deer and other wildlife but important salmon and trout watersheds that are vulnerable on Prince of Wales. A large amount of salmon-producing habitat in the Big Thorne area is still recovering from past logging and road building. It is less resilient to environmental stresses and more vulnerable to erosion caused by logging-related landslides and road crossings, the appeal notes.
The Forest Service, which largely manages the Tongass, describes the Big Thorne sale as necessary to help stabilize Southeast Alaska’s struggling timber industry as it transitions from old-growth manufacturing to second-growth production.
TU’s appeal points out that the Forest Service has grossly overestimated the market demand for Tongass timber. In the final environmental impact statement for the Big Thorne sale, the Forest Service erroneously concludes that 429 million board feet of timber is needed to provide enough volume for a three-year supply to industry. However, the current six-year average rate of Tongass timber harvest is 27.4 million board feet annually and there’s already 114 million board feet under contract. At the current harvest rate, it would take more than four years to log the existing volume of timber that’s already under contract even without any new timber supplied from the Big Thorne sale. In other words, the sale is completely of proportion with the industry’s existing needs and market demand.
Besides harming fish and wildlife habitat and adding unnecessary volume to the timber industry’s existing pipeline, Big Thorne would tarnish a significant swath of scenic landscape of the Tongass, an iconic temperate rainforest that draws over one-million visitors annually, fueling a $1 billion tourism industry. The agency has failed to recognize the negative economic effects Big Thorne could have on the tourism and fishing industries, according to the appeal.
“Fishing and tourism are the real breadwinners for Southeast Alaska. They employ nearly 20,000 people and contribute $2 billion dollars to the regional economy every year. Timber, by contrast, employs slightly over 100 people and costs American taxpayers in excess of $23 million. The Forest Service needs to abandon this sale or scale it down significantly and move forward with its transition plan,” said Williams, referring to the Forest Service’s May 2010 pledge to rapidly move away from old-growth logging in the Tongass.
Rather than continuing to push large-scale, old-growth logging in the Tongass, the Forest Service should invest in restoration of high-priority salmon watersheds and improve existing roads and stream crossings, the appeals states. It should also invest in projects designed to improve the recruitment of large woody debris.
“The Forest Service should switch gears and move forward with projects that benefit fishing and tourism. As far as logging goes, it should offer timber sales that emphasize young-growth units and micro-sales that are designed to minimize impacts to fish streams, riparian areas and sensitive wildlife habitat,” Williams said.
Read TU’s complete Big Thorne appeal here.