The U.S. Forest Service is reviewing a complaint filed by a Southeast environmental group that claims the federal agency misrepresented or omitted information when applying for a state log-storage permit.
The State Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating allegations against the U.S. Forest Service, made by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. The issue centers on the Forest Service’s Tonka Timber Sale, and a proposal to allow log rafts to be floated in Alexander Bay, located in Wrangell Narrows, before they’re taken to Viking Lumber in Klawock for processing.
Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole said it’s not a new idea.
“This site has historically been used for log storage,” he said. “We’ve used it during long-term contracts, we’ve used it under independent timber sale contracts, and hosts of other ones.”
Buck Lindekugel of SEACC said it’s true the area has been used to store logs before, but the scale of that use was misrepresented.
“We think the responsibility of the applicant to the permit is to provide the best information they have to the permitting agency so that they can make the right decision, and the Forest Service knew that the estimate of how much logs have been stored in the Pothole was wildly inflated over what had actually been done, and they didn’t notify DEC of that,” he said.
SEACC’s Oct. 5th request that the state terminate the log-storage permit claims that the Forest Service also misrepresented the cost of barging logs rather than storing them. SEACC states that the Forest Service claims the cost would be double, but a Forest Service estimate shows it would cost only about 5 percent more.
Cole said that since the last timber harvest in that area, regulations changed, so a state permit now is required for storing logs in the water. The Forest Service applied, but because a permit was not guaranteed, Cole said the Forest Service investigated options, such as barging the logs. Continued research into that option led to updated cost estimates, but he said the results still show it’s more economical to raft the logs.
“If the state goes down the path of pulling this permit on a site that has historically been used for this activity, then we will go to a more expensive method of operation: barging,” he said. “Whether it’s twice as much, a third as much or a nickel more, it’s still more expensive than historical in-water rafting activity.”
SEACC also alleges that the permit application incorrectly cites the lack of upland storage space as a reason for storing the logs in the water. SEACC states that the Tonka Timber Sale project includes plans for an uplands sort yard.
Another point of contention is the potential effect on crab habitat. Cole agrees that long-term log storage could cause harm, but said the log rafts would be moved fairly quickly for processing.
Lindekugel cites the importance of Alexander Bay, also called the Pothole, for crab fishing, and said that storing logs in that area would negatively affect that activity.
“It’s not just simply that bark from the logs would harm the habitat, it’s also the displacement of those users, the crabbers, when they’re storing logs there,” he said.
In a Nov. 19th letter the state Department of Environmental Conservation asks Cole for a response to SEACC’s allegations. A written response is due Dec. 19th, and Cole said his office will meet that deadline.
Cole disagrees with any insinuation that the Forest Service deliberately provided inaccurate data.
“The Forest Service is probably one of the most transparent agencies, and if we misrepresented something it wasn’t because of want to do it,” he said. “We’ve had a number of people working on this project, a number of people responding to the state, so if we have used incorrect numbers, it wasn’t on demand. We will look into those allegations, and we will formally respond here shortly.”
The Tonka Timber Sale is an approximately 40 million board feet project on the Lindenberg Peninsula near Petersburg.