Updates On Threemile and Gravina Timber Sales
July 10, 2004
The Forest Service recently approved the harvest of 19.5 million board feet of timber from approximately 665 acres in the Threemile area on Kuiu Island, about 20 miles southwest of Kake. Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole signed the Threemile Record of Decision (ROD), which was published in the Federal Registeron July 9, 2004.
The Forest Service also plans to issue a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and ROD for the Gravina Island Timber Sale by mid-August. The proposed decision could potentially mean the harvest of up to 38 million board feet of timber from approximately 1,800 acres in the Gravina project area on Gravina Island, located across Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan.
"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," said Cole. "I'm very concerned about the economic health of southeast Alaska communities and my hope is these timber harvests will help our local, family-run mills keep operating and create jobs."
According to the Forest Service, the Threemile project could produce up to 86 direct jobs while the proposed Gravina project could generate nearly 240 jobs.
The Threemile decision includes construction of about four miles of new road and four miles of temporary road, and construction of a log transfer facility. The decision avoids activities within the East Kuiu Inventoried Roadless Area, and was designed to minimize impacts within the Camden and Rocky Pass Inventoried Roadless Areas.
The upcoming Gravina project could include construction of up to 21 miles of new roads within the Gravina Inventoried Roadless Area.
On January 12, 2001, the Roadless Area Conservation Final Rule established prohibitions on road construction and timber harvest in roadless areas across the National Forest system. On Dec. 30, 2003, after analysis of current conditions in Southeast Alaska and public comment on the proposal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture amended the roadless rule so actions on the Tongass National Forest are not subject to the prohibitions against commercial harvest and roadbuilding in the national roadless rule. The national Roadless Rule is currently enjoined through a Federal district court order presently on appeal before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
This exemption from the Roadless Rule was necessary to support the communities in southeast Alaska that depend on the management of national forest lands for social and economic uses vital to community sustainability. Exempting the Tongass National Forest from the roadless rule returns the Tongass to the status of the 1997 Forest Plan Revision, which allocated about 676,000 acres out of nearly 17 million for potential timber harvest over the next 100 years.
Of the 9.6 million acres of the Tongass originally covered by the roadless rule, timber harvest will be considered on only about 300,000 acres. In other words, 92 percent of the Tongass is currently roadless and undeveloped. About 2 percent of the Forest that is within inventoried roadless areas is now open for consideration of active management over the next century or two.
Ecological sustainability is the key to the Tongass Forest Plan. "Sustainability of natural resources is the heart of our Forest Plan," said Cole. "Under the plan, more than 90 percent of the Tongass will remain unroaded, wild and undeveloped. The Tongass has about 9.4 million acres of old growth forest, of which about 5 million acres contains trees of commercial size. The Forest Plan allows no timber harvest on 90 percent of these 5 million acres of productive old growth."
Before arriving at proposed timber harvesting alternatives, Forest Service experts scrutinize all possible issues, including subsistence, wildlife viability and diversity, timber economics, access management, roadless character, and other issues during the environmental analysis process.
One of the most important issues relating to the proposed Gravina project is the potential impact on subsistence and other traditional uses. Many subsistence users depend on marine and tidal resources in Bostwick Inlet, so the Forest Service has designed alternatives that will maintain high-value deer winter range, restrict access to the interior of the island through road closures, and avoid logging, road construction and any log transfer facility close to Bostwick Inlet.
"Our folks looked hard at possible impacts on subsistence users, particularly deer harvest levels, for both Threemile and Gravina," said Cole. "I'm confident that any timber harvests we allow will have minimal impact on subsistence deer harvesting."
According to Cole, "true conservation is a balancing act."
"We are serious about environmental stewardship it is why the Forest Service was established," said Cole. "We are just as serious about meeting the diverse needs of people. It is absolutely possible for the Tongass to meet the needs of people, be it wood products, clean water, recreation, tourism, wilderness both tangible and intangible things -- just as it has for centuries."
In accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations the Threemile ROD is subject to appeal. Appeals must be filed within 45 days of the date that legal notification of this decision is published in the Juneau Empire, the newspaper of record, which is planned for July 9.
For information on the Threemile project, contact Petersburg District Ranger Patricia Grantham at (907) 772-5900. If you would like a copy of the Threemile Timber Harvest FEIS or ROD, call Tiffany Benna, assistant team leader for the Threemile project, at (907) 772-3871. Benna's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Her mailing address is: P.O. Box 1328, Petersburg, Alaska, 99833. Copies of these documents also are available at the Petersburg Ranger District and public libraries throughout Southeast Alaska.
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