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Big Thorne Contract Awarded to Viking Lumber Company; Lawsuits Pending


October 02, 2014
Thursday PM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - The Tongass National Forest awarded the Big Thorne Stewardship Integrated Resource Timber Contract Tuesday to Viking Lumber Company, located on Prince of Wales Island.

Viking Lumber was previously awarded tha contract last year, but the sale was halted due to concerns raised over impacts on the wolf and deer populations on Prince of Wales Island. After reconsidering the sale, the Forest Service again awarded the contract to Viking Lumber. However, ground disturbing activities are not allowed before April, 2015, because of pending litigation. Last month, the State of Alaska filed motions to intervene in three lawsuits where various environmental organizations are seeking to halt the Big Thorne timber project in Southeast Alaska.

Big Thorne Stewardship project will allow for the harvest of 97 million board feet of timber and includes five stewardship projects, such as trail renovations, stream restoration projects, and young growth thinning to enhance wildlife habitat.

“Big Thorne is a critical project that is needed now to ensure the long-term success of our transition,” said Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole. “It is the key to a young-growth future. It allows for a long-term supply of timber, provides stability and sustains jobs while giving local businesses an opportunity to retool to process young-growth timber and seek new markets.”

According to Forest Service officials, Viking’s proposal was the best value to the government. Viking demonstrated the best technical and financial ability to meet the diversity of projects in the stewardship contract.

Commenting on the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to award the Big Thorne Stewardship Contract to Viking Lumber Company, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell (R-AK) said in a prepared statement, “This is a step in the right direction after far too long a delay. However, inadequate federal timber sales and irresponsible lawsuits by environmental groups to stop all logging continue to threaten Alaska’s timber families." Governor Parnell said, "We will help defend the sale against those who want to kill Alaska’s jobs and shut down our traditional timber communities. The Forest Service must put more sales out to meet increasing demand for both old-growth and young-growth material.”

In a prepared statement, U.S. Senator Mark Begich(D-AK) also commented on the announcement saying, “I have voiced support for the Big Thorne timber sale since it was first proposed several years ago, as it indicated that the USFS was trying to provide a multi-year supply of timber to mills in Southeast Alaska. Since that time, several things have occurred. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a Tongass transition memorandum in which the Big Thorne sale was specifically identified as a critical piece of the “bridge timber” needed to keep the industry alive, the size of the sale was reduced, and there were significant delays in advertising the sale and awarding a contract."

Begich said, “While [Tuesday's] award is potentially good news for Viking and Prince of Wales Island, I am concerned that the agreement between the USFS and plaintiffs in ongoing litigation to suspend any work until April 2015 could cause Viking to run out of a wood supply prior to being allowed to access Big Thorne. A timber sale contract should lead to trees being cut. This does not—for at least another six months. I would urge the USFS to closely monitor the wood supply available to Viking for the duration of the delay, and take whatever steps are necessary to supply timber until such time as Big Thorne is available."

“I have fought hard to keep Viking in business," said Begich, "and I appreciate the efforts of Alaska USFS staff to overcome huge obstacles to get this sale over the goal line in an effort to support the timber industry and the economies of rural Southeast Alaska communities. History in other states has taught us that once the timber industry is lost and mills close, they will not return. Southeast Alaska cannot afford any more mill closures due to timber supply delays.”

The Forest Service used its stewardship contracting authority in developing the Big Thorne project. According to the Forest Service, stewardship contracting helps achieve land management goals while meeting local and rural community needs, including contributing to the sustainability of rural communities and providing a continuing source of local income and employment.

The Big Thorne project is an integral part of a bigger investment strategy effort to develop sustainable, diversified economies throughout Southeast Alaska. Components of the strategy include renewable energy, forest restoration and young growth management, fisheries and mariculture, tourism and recreation, and subsistence.

Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews

Sources of News: 

U.S. Forest Service

Office of Governor Sean Parnell

Office of U.S. Senator Mark Begich

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