JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Federal officials are allowing a 665-acre timber harvest in a roadless area of Tongass National Forest, the first since an anti-logging rule was lifted early this year.
The harvest was announced Friday by the Forest Service along with the agency’s plans to approve a proposed 1,800-acre harvest next month.
“Supporting our local communities is an important part of what we do and offering these timber sales is a way we can accomplish that goal,” Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole said in a statement. “My hope is these timber harvests will help our local family-run mills keep operating and create jobs.”
Environmentalists decried the announcement, while a timber industry group applauded it.
Russell Heath of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said the Forest Service is ignoring the wishes of millions of Americans who commented on the roadless rule and sought to have no more logging roads built in Tongass.
“It’s clear that continuing to log the big trees in the untouched valley bottoms of the Tongass is not OK with the American public,” Heath said.
The rule prohibiting road building on about 58.5 million acres of federal forests was put in place in the waning days of the Clinton administration. The Bush administration’s decision to lift the rule for the Tongass took effect in January.
Heath said roads create additional environmental damage on top of the harm done by logging because they can add silt to fish streams and allow more public access to previously protected areas.
Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association said the harvests are “tiny” compared to what the Forest Service offered in the early 1990s, but they will provide jobs for local mills.
At least part of the first harvest is off an existing roaded area that has been logged, Graham added.
“It’s not like we’ve gone to some pristine place and started building roads in some wilderness area,” Graham said.
The Forest Service estimates the first harvest could produce 86 jobs and the second project could produce nearly 240 jobs.
The second would require building up to 21 miles of new roads, while the first calls for building four miles of permanent road and four miles of temporary road.
Three Alaska Native groups objected to the larger harvest, expressing fears it will hurt traditional subsistence harvests of deer and seafood at Bostwick Inlet.
Dennis Neill, a spokesman for Tongass, said the Forest Service attempted to address those concerns by restricting access to the interior of the island and avoiding logging, road construction and log transfer facilities close to the inlet.
Neill said appeals and litigation are expected and could mean it will be about a year before an actual sale takes place.