Record of Decision Signing Ceremony Concludes Two-Year Collaboration on POW Project
By MARY KAUFFMAN
March 18, 2019
“It is important that we honor the effort of the members of the Prince of Wales Landscape Assessment Team,” said Tongass Forest Supervisor M. Earl Stewart. “Their hard work, meeting monthly over the course of a year to achieve consensus on the collection of actions, helped ensure the Forest Service’s management actions on Prince of Wales will align with the agreed direction of this district’s diverse stakeholders.”
Jon Bollig, POW LAT Chairperson said, “The POW Landscape Assessment Team, made up of residents from Prince of Wales Island, identified a series of goals, ideas, and projects in an open, public, and structured process over the course of a year or more. Those goals, ideas, and projects are seen by the POW LAT as important to the residents, communities, and the natural function of the forest in the POW Island area. I am gratified that most of the activities that POW LAT identified are included in the landscape assessment document, and look forward to the implementation of timber harvest, restoration, and recreation activities over the next 10 to 15 years.”
The decision will implement a 15-year, integrated resources management plan for federal lands on Prince of Wales Island. It is the result of a highly collaborative, public process that included significant input from an independently formed, broadly based group, as well as local tribes, youth and the general public.
The purpose of the project is to improve forest ecosystem health in the project area, help support community resiliency, and provide economic development through an integrated approach to meet multiple resource objectives. There are a host of actions within the decision, spanning many programs and stakeholder interests, including but not limited to: up to 200 miles of instream restoration, up to three recreation cabins, 12 new three-sided shelters, 4,500 acres per year of pre-commercial and wildlife thinning treatments, and trail construction and maintenance.
Defenders of Wildlife Senior Alaska Representative, Patrick Lavin, issued a prepared statement regarding the signing of the Record of Decision for the Prince of Wales Landscape Level Analysis project.
“Liquidating valuable forest habitat and exporting the logs to Asia won’t create many jobs but will threaten wildlife such as the Alexander Archipelago wolf, Sitka black-tailed deer, northern flying squirrel and many other old-growth dependent species. It will also threaten the region’s real economic drivers, which are fishing, recreation and tourism,“ said Lavin.
The stated purpose of the POW LLA project is to improve forest ecosystem health, help support community resilience, and provide economic development to the area. However, according to Audubon Alaska, what the project actually does is allow for the sale of 235 million board feet of old-growth forest on Prince of Wales to timber operators over the next 15 years. This complex of islands has already experienced six decades of high-volume old-growth clearcutting. Researchers estimated in 2013 that 94% of the contiguous high-volume old-growth forests were clearcut for timber between 1954 and 2004. Prince of Wales and its surrounding islands host numerous endemic plants and animals, found nowhere else on earth, which rely on old-growth habitat for sheltering, foraging, and breeding. Clearcutting neither improves the health of this ecosystem nor provides sustainable economic development.
“The Forest Service decision ignores scientific research that continues to highlight the importance of Prince of Wales Island as the engine of biological diversity for the Tongass National Forest,” said Natalie Dawson, executive director for Audubon Alaska. “The decision also ignores the economic realities of southeast Alaska. There is great potential for the Tongass to serve as a sustainable ‘working forest’ for Alaskans and Americans, but continuing to degrade habitat on Prince of Wales will, in fact, jeopardize that opportunity.”
Audubon Alaska says the agency used a broad and imprecise “condition-based NEPA” process to authorize the POW LLA project, and did not conduct site-specific analysis on potential activities, including no site-specific analyses on the impacts of old-growth timber sales. Following the signing of the final Record of Decision on Saturday, the agency intends to hold community meetings to identify which actions to implement, but will conduct no further environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“A streamlined process to authorize old-growth harvest with little to no environmental review sets a dangerous precedent for the science and public input needed to properly manage our national forests,” Dawson continued. “What the agency touts as a ‘landscape level analysis’ in fact makes 235 million board feet of old-growth timber available for cutting over the next 15 years. If the past is any precedent, the agency will now prioritize selling old-growth over those actions that would actually improve ecosystem health and support local economies.”
Old-growth forests on Prince of Wales Island support birds, deer, wolves, and salmon. This rich ecosystem contributes to three of the region’s major economic drivers: tourism, fishing, and recreation.
Audubon Alaska says continued clearcutting here poses a risk to the long-term economic stability. Southeast Alaska already supports a healthy tourism industry reliant on wildlife and intact habitats, and Prince of Wales offers plenty of room for sustainable growth.
However, a news release later today from the Forest Service's Public Affairs Office said comments describing the project as a timber sale and portraying the timber projects within it as outside the scope of the forest plan are inaccurate.
Quoting the Forest Service news release today, "The POW LLA project is a comprehensive, long-term plan to bring sustainability and alignment with stakeholder direction to all of the programs the Forest Service administers on National Forest System lands within the Craig and Thorne Bay Ranger Districts. While there is timber offered to support the resilience and economies of local communities, there is also a host of actions within the Record of Decision spanning many programs and stakeholder interests, including but not limited to: up to 200 miles of instream restoration, up to three recreation cabins, 12 new 3-sided shelters, 4,500 acres per year of pre-commercial and wildlife thinning treatments, and trail construction and maintenance."
"The old growth volumes suggested by the Prince of Wales Landscape Assessment Team and accepted within the Record of Decision fall within the terms of the Tongass Land Management Plan Amendment, providing the bridge timber required for the transition to increased young-growth harvest on the forest," states the news release.
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