SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Forest Service Wants To Pay More In Money-Losing Timber Sale

Alaska Region Urges Off-Books Payments To Logger to Sweeten Tongrass Contract


July 11, 2017
Tuesday PM

(SitNews) Washington, D. C. - After losing nearly $2 million on a major timber sale, U.S. Forest Service officials are pushing for additional payments to a Southeast Alaska logging company, according to documents posted Monday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  In a significant departure, the requested payoffs are both outside the timber contract process and without a formal claim from the logging company said PEER.

The documents from the Forest Service Region Office for Alaska concern the Big Thorne timber sale on the Tongass National Forest.  A 2016 Washington Office review of that sale faulted the Region for allowing Viking Lumber Company located on Prince of Wales Island to cherry-pick more valuable trees and leave less valuable salvage trees standing, thus significantly shorting the taxpayer.

Although the company bid on this contract at its own risk, top Alaska Region Office officials are trying to engineer ways to supplement the taxpayer subsidy using shifting and seemingly specious rationales, according to PEER:

  • On August 22, 2016 Regional Forester Beth Pendleton directed her staff to apply a retroactive “rate correction” to make up for “haul cost” differences which she characterized as a “material error,”  Two weeks later, Pendleton “rescinded” her material error directive in a September 7, 2016 memo which offered no explanation for the abrupt reversal; 
  • In a May 31, 2017 memo to Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell, Acting Regional Forester Rebecca Nourse (Pendleton had been elevated to Acting Associate Chief) requests permission to negotiate “revised rates retroactive to the beginning of harvest activities” in order to prevent Viking from filing a  claim “which puts the Forest Service at risk of significant damages” adding that “Correcting the situation on Big Thorne…is a high priority.”; and
  • Nourse states that this off-books arrangement is necessary because, “there is no contractual mechanism to correct these errors and inequities, which we think will cost the Purchaser money under the contract.” This time the basis is a claim the company is owed more timber volume. 

“These officials appear to value the interests of this timber company over the interests of the taxpayer,” stated Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER which has been pressing for an independent audit of the Alaska Region timber sales. “Something is rotten in the State of Alaska – and it is not Tongass old growth.”

The Nourse memo also implies that the Alaska Region has pre-negotiated with Viking, indicating that the company is amenable to this ‘anticipated solution.”  Ironically, this plan is premised on the argument that it is “outside the scope of authority” for Forest Service staff to act yet cites no legal authority for the Chief to cut a new deal behind closed doors.  Moreover, the arrangement appears to bypass agency legal staff.

The Nourse memo references the formation of yet another review team which has issued a “final report” identifying “issues related to sale preparation and appraisal activities” but it has not been released.

“The justification for shelling out more tax dollars on a money-losing timber sale has not seen the light of day,” added Ruch, whose organization is currently suing the Forest Service for failing to disclose documents about this timber sale in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. “The Big Thorne sale is proving to be both a financial and an ecological loser.” 

Big Thorne is the largest project on the Tongass in over 20 years, and its 8,500 acres of logging will take 148.9 million board feet of timber. The Big Thorne timber project will take place on Prince of Wales Island in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Prince of Wales Island, the third largest island in the country, is about the size of Delaware. 

The Big Thorne sale was designed to be a ten year sale supplying timber at a rate of 15 to 20 million board feet per year. Although the final sale fell well short of the planned volume of timber, the sale is nevertheless one of the biggest federal timber sales from the Tongass in many years. As such, it allows the last remaining mill in Southeast Alaska, Viking, to continue to operate in the near term. However, the timber supply remains at a critically low level and the future of the industry remains in doubt.


On the Web:

Read the Nourse memo

View Pendleton “material error” U-turn



Related News:

Ninth Circuit Court Clears Way for Big Thorne Timber Project; Environmental groups disappointed by ruling By MARY KAUFFMAN
SitNews - May 24, 2017


Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews



Source of News:

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)



Representations of fact and opinions in comments posted are solely those of the individual posters and do not represent the opinions of Sitnews.


Submit A Letter to SitNews

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2017
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

 Articles & photographs that appear in SitNews may be protected by copyright and may not be reprinted without written permission from and payment of any required fees to the proper sources.

E-mail your news & photos to

Photographers choosing to submit photographs for publication to SitNews are in doing so granting their permission for publication and for archiving. SitNews does not sell photographs. All requests for purchasing a photograph will be emailed to the photographer.