The U.S. Forest Service has announced that it will require a more critical review on the “Big Thorne” timber project before the agency can move forward. Big Thorne is the largest timber sale in the Tongass National Forest since the pulp mill days. The decision on the appeal requires the Forest Service to reexamine the impacts of such large-scale logging on Prince of Wales Island on the deer and Alexander Archipelago wolf populations. Southeast Alaskans hailed the decision while calling on the Forest Service to drop the project permanently and refocus priorities away from large-scale old-growth logging.
The Big Thorne timber sale would put 120 million board feet of old-growth trees on the chopping block. The sale takes from approximately 6,000 acres of old-growth forest on central Prince of Wales Island, which already has been severely logged. The Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska is the “crown jewel” of our forest system and is one of the world’s five remaining intact temperate rainforests.
Agency leaders, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, have already set a goal of ending industrial-scale old-growth logging, yet the Forest Service recently announced that they are moving forward with a number of old-growth timber sales. Now is the time for the Forest Service to stop the large-scale industrial logging of old-growth trees and protect America’s rainforest. Instead the Forest Service should speed the transition away from old-growth logging, and help revitalize the economy in southeast Alaska by supporting the tourism and fishing industries that depend on wild forests.
Quotes from conservation groups:
“The Forest Service has finally realized that logging does not happen in a vacuum. We are appreciative that they are going to take a closer look that the impacts of Big Thorne on deer and wolf populations, but what about the impact on southeast Alaska’s economy?” said Cindy Shogan, Executive Director, Alaska Wilderness League. “Southeast Alaskans make their living off the wild lands and waters of the forest. It’s time that Forest Service reprioritizes the uses of the forest to benefit all of its inhabitants and stops devastating large-scale industrial logging. It is time to make the transition framework a reality.”
“Logging of this scale on Prince of Wales Island puts Alexander Archipelago wolves and other vulnerable wildlife such as Queen Charlotte goshawks at risk. We’re glad the Forest Service will take a more critical look at the impacts logging will have,” said Jim Adams, Policy Director, of Audubon Alaska. The Forest Service needs to jump into the 21st century and shift from clear-cutting old growth to managing for salmon, wildlife, and other uses of the forest.”
“Science carried the day. The Forest Service stepped back from the brink,” said Tom Waldo an attorney for Earthjustice in Alaska. “After decades of industrial-scale logging on Prince of Wales, there won’t be enough deer to go around for wolves and local subsistence hunters. This decision is a temporary relief, but now the Forest Service needs to drop the Big Thorne project permanently and make a fast exit from this kind of large-scale old-growth logging altogether.”
“If there’s one government program that should stay shut down permanently, it’s the selling of America’s magnificent, publicly-owned old growth to timber companies. Hopefully, when the Forest Service gets back to work and reviews the Big Thorne project, the agency will come to its senses and drop it for good,” said Niel Lawrence, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council.
“We're pleased that the Forest Service is requiring a more thorough review of this massive logging project. As the last great temperate rainforest on Earth this special place should be protected for all Americans not sacrificed to a handful of special interests,” said Matt Kirby, policy representative for the Sierra Club. “It's time for the Forest Service to transition away from old-growth logging."
“The direction from the Forest Service regional staff to do further analysis on this sale recognizes that continued logging of the remnant patches of old growth timber are having impacts on deer populations that are a critical subsistence resource for SE Alaskans. Sitka Black Tail Deer are limited by winter habitat. The few remaining patches of quality winter black-tail deer habitat are being targeted in the Forest Service’s old-growth timber sales. Inevitably, there will be a cumulative effects after 50 years of old growth timber harvest and at some point we need to recognize that we have passed a tipping point and we need to move the Tongass focus away from the same-old focus on old growth timber,” said Andrew Thoms, SCS executive director.