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.

Clearcuts and old-growth forests are part of the view on Prince of Wales Island. (Nick Bonzey, Flick Creative Commons)

Environmentalists are objecting to proposed old growth logging on Prince of Wales Island. The Forest Service says the plan is part of its commitment to the timber industry in the Tongass National Forest.

Alaska’s Regional Forester Dave Schmid highlighted a project on Prince of Wales Island that he says would help feed Southeast’s timber economy.

You know we’ve got a big effort on Prince of Wales, the Prince of Wales Landscape Assessment,” Schmid said in a Dec. 12 interview. “That’s a project that’s going to define a couple million acres over the next 15 years.”

Prince of Wales is home to Southeast Alaska’s last mid-sized sawmill. The family-owned Viking Lumber operation near Klawock employs about 40 people.

While it’s not very big, it’s a very important piece of those communities,” said Schmid, who worked as a forestry ranger on the island earlier in his career. “And so when I work, it’s helping communities help themselves and to find their future.”

The timber industry in Southeast is not what it once was. Only a few hundred people in the region work in the industry, according to Rain Coast Data.

The Forest Service hasn’t identified which stands of trees could be offered for harvest. But the plan’s general outline calls for logging up to 235 million board feet of old-growth over 15 years.  

Patrick Lavin of Defenders of Wildlife said that’s a reversal of the agency’s committed transition towards harvesting younger, second-growth timber.

“It will severely impact fish and wildlife on Prince of Wales Island when it really doesn’t need to,” Lavin said by phone from Anchorage. “The Forest Service should be moving away from old growth.”

The Forest Service says the phase out of old growth logging would be gradual. And besides logging, the agency is also proposing fish and wildlife habitat work along with recreational projects on Prince of Wales forestland.

The four-page letter of objection filed Dec. 27 by Defenders of Wildlife also questions whether development and logging would impact protected wolf habitat.

The national group’s filing is a legal requirement for an organization to eventually file a lawsuit. Now that the formal objection period has closed it’s unclear when the Forest Service will take its next steps or issue its final decision.

Forest Service officials weren’t available for comment.

Many key agency staff remain furloughed as part of the ongoing federal government shutdown. The Department of Agriculture says all timber sales remain suspended.