Clear-cuts and old-growth forests are part of the view of Indian Valley on Prince of Wales Island. The Forest Service just announced three more timber sales in the Island's Big Thorne area.

Clear-cuts and old-growth forests are part of the view of Indian Valley on Prince of Wales Island. The Forest Service just announced three more timber sales in the Island’s Big Thorne area. (Nick Bonzey, Flickr Creative Commons)

The Forest Service plans three more timber sales in a part of Prince of Wales Island conservationists say needs to be protected. They’re much smaller than a recent sale in the same area.

The sales are between Thorne Bay and Coffman Cove, on northeast Prince of Wales Island.

They’re part of the larger Big Thorne sale area, which is tied up with court challenges.

Officials recently sold nearly 100 million board feet of Big Thorne timber to Viking Lumber, Southeast’s largest mill.

Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole says the three smaller sales total less than 5 percent of that amount.

“There’s a fairly significantly number of small operators on Prince of Wales and these projects have been set up specifically for them,” Cole says.

The smaller mills have lobbied the Forest Service for sales they can afford to bid on.

Cole says the goal is to help keep them operating.

“They are larger than typical sales that they deal with. But the concept for these projects is similar to the Big Thorne, to try to get a longer-term amount of wood to the smaller operators,” he says.

Several conservation groups have sued to block sales in the Big Thorne area.

One is Greenpeace, where Sitka’s Larry Edwards is Alaska forest campaigner.

“We think that the whole Big Thorne sale needs to be set aside and legal matters decided before any sales are made at all,” Edwards says.

Others involved include the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community and the Center for Biological Diversity.

They say Big Thorne sales will hurt deer and wolf populations.

Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration has filed to become involved in the legal battle. The state fears the Forest Service will not adequately defend its decisions.

While the sales are designed for smaller mills, Cole says there’s no guarantee they’ll get the trees.

“Everybody can put in a bid in on it. These are being put out as timber sales contracts, so the highest bidder wins. Given that the larger operator just picked up about 100 million [board] feet, we suspect there will probably be less interest there and more interest by the smaller operators,” he says.

Some small mills have expressed doubts about the bidding process for all the sales. Tongass officials won’t release contract details for the larger sale until it’s signed.

The Forest Service estimates the three small sales’ value at $750,000. They were advertised in the Oct. 4 Ketchikan Daily News. Bids are due in early November.

“These projects are all old growth and off the existing road systems. We’ve got about 2,300 acres of young growth that we intend to put up at a later date. It’s in a form of commercial thinning and we have not got to that point yet,” he says.

While the Forest Service is moving ahead with the sales, it’s promised to delay logging until next spring. Cole says that should be enough time to address the court challenges.

But Greenpeace’s Edwards says it’s not a done deal.

“We haven’t heard from the court yet if they’ve agreed to the April 1st date, so there’s still a question mark there. But if there’s no activity on any of these projects until a decision is made by the court, that’s certainly a plus,” he says.

The sales are 500,000-board-foot Buck Rush, 1.600-million-board-foot Last Stand and 2.300-million-board-foot In Between.

For reference, Cole says about 10,000 board feet can go into a good-sized house. And 25,000 to 30,000 board feet of old-growth trees can be logged per acre, which about the size of a football field.