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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Proposed Tonka Timber Sale Comment Deadline
By Paul Olson & Carol Cairnes


December 09, 2011
Friday AM

The Tongass Conservation Society (TCS) and the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community (GSACC) have several concerns about the Forest Service’s proposed Tonka Timber Sale (Tonka).  The project would cut 25 to 53 million board feet of old growth forest from the Lindenberg Peninsula near Petersburg.  This area is heavily used by the public and past logging has already removed too much winter deer habitat.  The Forest Service then proposes towing log rafts for storage in an important Dungeness crab fishing spot - the “Pothole” – despite significant risks to shellfish populations and habitat.  Proceeding with another sale here is unfair to deer hunters and crab fishermen as well as the taxpaying general public that must fund yet another deficit timber sale.

The Lindenberg Peninsula is the most important and easily accessible area for Petersburg deer hunters.  30 years of intensive clearcutting has reduced winter carrying capacity for deer to a level far lower than much of the rest of the Tongass.  Canopy closure in second-growth stands has or will make much of the area unsuitable deer habitat, particularly in hard winters.  Record snowfalls of the last decade have been hard on deer.  ADF & G pellet surveys indicate that actual population declines have likely occurred.  Petersburg hunters averaged 74 deer per year from the Tonka wildlife analysis area between 1995 and 2005 but harvests have declined over the past five years with just 24 deer harvested in 2009.  Because Tonka will further reduce intact remaining winter deer refuge, the Forest Service is placing this population at risk of continuing long-term decline.  We think that the Forest Service should exercise caution here and delay further timber entries for quite some time.

The proposed in-water log storage area for Tonka at the Pothole conflicts with the state of Alaska regulations that explicitly recommend onshore log storage and log barging rather than rafting and in-water storage.    Where in-water storage occurs, selected sites should be in deeper waters with adequate currents for flushing wood debris and avoid established fishing areas and shellfish habitats.  Use of the Pothole’s shallow shellfish habitat for log storage violates all these principles that specifically protect shellfish fisheries.  Also, the Forest Service proposes to exclude fishermen from the area for substantial portion of the season at a time when crabbers from Wrangell, Petersburg and Kake are losing other fishing areas to sea otter predation.  A recent McDowell Group study shows a decline in wholesale crab catch value of over $5 million this past decade with corresponding declines in ex-vessel values, permits fished and jobs.

Tonka’s impacts on deer and crab harvests occur at considerable public expense.  Planning and executing the Tonka project will cost taxpayers at least several million dollars.  This does not include infrastructure and maintenance costs or the cost of a log barge facility that would avoid log-storage impacts on tidal habitat and fisheries.

The Tonka timber sale is simply not good business.  It would generate only $30,000 in sales revenue under the most economical alternative in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  The other alternatives have deficit appraisals, meaning that the cost of production exceeds the end-product value.  Even these marginal results would be impossible except for the Forest Service’s increased emphasis on raw log exports.  Previously, the agency allowed for 50% export.  Two new timber contracts made this fall allow 100% export.  The result is unacceptable impacts to southeast Alaska and its residents, at significant cost to taxpayers, for but a few jobs while the logs are sent away to support mill jobs somewhere else.

This makes no sense to us.  We ask you to write the Petersburg Ranger District at P.O. Box 1328, 99833 and ask them to discontinue planning on the Tonka Timber Sale.  The comment deadline is Monday, December 12.

Paul Olson,
Board President, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community (GSACC)
Sitka, AK

Carol Cairnes,
Board President, Tongass Conservation Society (TCS)
Ketchikan, AK


Received December 07, 2011 - Published December 09, 2011



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