Alaskan Groups Challenge Controversial Timber Sale

Logging was justified under illegal management plan


Tom Waldo, Earthjustice, (907) 586-2751

The long-time struggle by residents of Wrangell, Meyers Chuck, and Ketchikan to maintain the outstanding hunting, fishing, and recreational uses on the road-free Cleveland Peninsula entered federal court today. Standing up for local residents, several local, regional, and national conservation organizations, represented by Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo, filed a lawsuit on the Emerald Bay timber sale.

The Emerald Bay sale is one of several timber sales the Forest Service is pushing even as it revises its forest plan. The Forest Service is in the process of redoing the Tongass management plan because the agency wrongly doubled the estimated demand for Tongass timber, rendering the plan illegal as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2005. Based on this false number, the agency dedicated too much land to logging, shortchanging other uses of the forest.

“My family has hunted, crabbed, fished, and trapped on the Cleveland for decades. I want my kids and their kids to have the chance to do all those things here. Clearcutting here ignores the growing number of people who enjoy and love this area for other needs,” says Bob Hunley of Meyers Chuck.

The Emerald Bay sale lies within a narrow “pinch point” between upper and lower Cleveland Peninsula, 40 miles north of Ketchikan. The Forest Service plans to clearcut more than 600 acres and build 6 miles of road in Emerald Bay, logging approximately 16 million board feet of wood. The road construction and clearcutting from the sale would harm this key wildlife corridor. Local guiding businesses, residents of nearby communities, and subsistence users have opposed clearcutting this important area for nearly 10 years. A Forest Service memo (2/17/2000) demonstrates that the real purpose for the Emerald Bay sale is to provide a foot in the door for contentious roads and logging in Port Stewart on the currently road-free Cleveland Peninsula.

“The Forest Service doesn’t even know what’s out there, they have no idea how many bears are there, but they want to go ahead with the sale,” says Mark Galla, owner and hunting and sightseeing guide for Alaska Peak and Seas. “These trips to Emerald Bay and Vixen Inlet provide close to half of my annual income. If there is logging in Emerald Bay, it will effectively kill my chance to guide hunts there.”

The way the Forest Service conducts large-scale sales, such as Emerald Bay, works against local small-scale woodworkers. Between 1998 and 2004, 50-percent of Tongass timber sales offered received no bids, and 70 percent of sales that were sold had only one bidder.

“I can’t get small quantities of high-quality wood for my business, yet the Forest Service tosses away millions clearcutting areas miles from any mill,” says Beth Antonsen, who makes high-end wood products such as furniture and boats. “Who are they working for?”

In addition to limiting or eliminating community uses of Emerald Bay, the Forest Service claims it will lose $1.5 million tax dollars on the sale. However, a close examination of agency average expenses for logging for the last five years reveals that the agency’s loss would actually be closer to between $8 million and $12 million.

Even the timber industry seems uncomfortable with the controversy sparked by the sale, Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association told the Anchorage Daily News that his group wishes the Forest Service had located the project in a less controversial area because “we don’t particularly want to go in there and have a fight with the environmentalists and the communities.”

“The Forest Service is living in the past,” says Gregory Vickrey of the Tongass Conservation Society. “Instead of spending money on growing industries, like tourism, or sustainable industries, like commercial fishing, the Forest Service is throwing away millions to prop up the timber industry.”

“It doesn’t make any sense to put out big, money-losing timber sales that harm local uses when the Forest Service is justifying them using an illegal forest plan. Even if the plan is corrected, Emerald Bay is too valuable to cut,” says Dave Sherman of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

“The Ninth Circuit clearly said that the management plan for the Tongass is illegal,” said Tom Waldo of Earthjustice, “yet the Forest Service offered this sale anyway. We had no choice but to go to court.” 

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