Local News

Draft EIS announced for Big Thorne timber sale

The U.S. Forest Service recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed timber sale on Prince of Wales Island.

The Tongass National Forest wants to know what the public thinks of its proposed Big Thorne Project. The sale would allow harvests from about 5,000 acres of federal land on Prince of Wales Island and, depending on which alternative eventually is approved, would lead to a harvest of between 93 million and 189 million board feet.

The harvest area includes parcels south of Coffman Cove, around Thorne Bay and out to Control Lake north of Klawock. According to the Forest Service, none of that harvest would take place in inventoried roadless areas.

The proposed alternative would allow a harvest of about 123 million board feet. It also calls for rebuilding about 19 miles of road, and constructing about 35 miles of temporary new roads to access the timber.

Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole said the project is vital. He said it could provide stability for the local timber industry for up to 10 years.

Alaska Forest Association Executive Director Owen Graham is cautiously optimistic about the proposed sale. He said that this particular sale should be economically viable for logging.

“It’s a big project, and that’s what we need out there to give the mill, the mills that’s left some certainty in their timber supply,” he said.

Graham said the Forest Service still needs to come up with additional 10-year timber sales. He said the Big Thorne Project won’t increase the logging industry in Southeast Alaska, but it will keep help keep Prince of Wales Island mills alive for a while longer.

“It’ll kick the can down the road for a couple of years for the Klawock mill, if we’re lucky,” he said.

Large timber sales can be controversial. Graham said he expects environmental groups will oppose the Big Thorne Project.

“Any significant sale, they’ll challenge them,” he said. “They want to destroy the timber industry, and they’ll do anything they can to accomplish that.”

Bob Claus of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said his organization hasn’t had enough time to examine the draft EIS carefully, so it’s too soon to tell whether they will have concerns.

“This is a really complex sale over a huge land area that affects a number of different communities on Prince of Wales,” he said. “We’re reviewing the details carefully, but we haven’t had a chance to look at them in detail. We did provide some scoping comments earlier in the process and have been involved in helping to develop the sale for the last 18 months or so.”

Although they were involved in the process, Claus said SEACC officials will reserve judgment until after their review. He said the harvest area is large, but SEACC supports the Forest Service’s goals of transitioning from old-growth to young-growth timber sales.

The Forest Service announcement states that the proposed sale combines old and young-growth harvest areas to encourage a young-growth timber industry.

“We need to look at this sale with a very critical eye to make sure that they’re actually following through with their ideas on how to transition,” he said.

The complete draft EIS is available online, and includes maps of the proposed sale boundaries. The comment period starts Friday, and lasts 45 days.

Written comments should be mailed or hand-delivered to the Thorne Bay Ranger District. They also can be faxed, or emailed. See links and more detailed contact information below.

Draft EIS: http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=31542

Mailing address for comments:

Thorne Bay Ranger District

Attn: Big Thorne Bay Project EIS

PO Box 19001

Thorne Bay, AK 99919-0001

Fax #: 907-828-33-9

Email: comments-alaska-tongass-thorne-bay@fs.fed.us

More information: Zone Planner Frank Roberts: 907-828-3250 or fwroberts@fs.fed.us

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