can go forward, under instructions
Four Appellants Blast Denial of Logjam Appeals; Governor Says Decision Fair
September 26, 2009
Regional Forester Bschor received appeals from Cascadia Wildlands; Sitka Conservation Society; Southeast Alaska Conservation Society, Audubon Alaska, and Alaska Wilderness League (SEACC et al.); and Juneau Group of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and the Tongass Conservation Society (Sierra Club et al.). The appeals raised a number of issues with the environmental analysis. The main issues were: range of alternatives; wildlife viability; timber economics; road costs and maintenance; silviculture; effects on watersheds; and climate change. In affirming the Supervisor's decision, Bschor denied all of the appeal points.
"Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wants the Forest Service to focus on restoration and the health and resilience of our forest ecosystems and the rural communities that depend on them," Bschor said. "He wants us to work more collaboratively to improve community health and wealth in rural America. My instructions on implementing timber sales in the Logjam Project will bring the design and harvest of those sales into line with the Secretary's vision."
Bschor emphasized that, in order to maintain the health and the resiliency of the forest, restoration must be conducted on thousands of acres, and that work could not be done without the small mills currently operating in Southeast Alaska. But without timber sales, those few mills will cease to exist.
"It is apparent we that we need to provide timber to bridge the gap to get to restoration, but the devil's in the details," said Bschor. And the details are in Bschor's instructions to Cole. "I know that we have heard about a timber volume bridge before, but this is different. The Department and the Agency will be bringing resources to bear, in combinations that have not been brought before, to get us there. We need a bridge."
Bschor recognized that the Tongass has taken great strides in furthering the collaborative efforts associated with timber harvests, but he instructed the supervisor to develop a process for interested groups to become involved in the initial phases of long-term planning for conventional and young growth timber sales. He asked Cole to pursue through these front-end collaboration efforts stewardship-type contracts to achieve multiple objectives.
Instructions from Bschor also instructed the Supervisor to: mitigate effects of roads by modifying road standards; defer timber harvests in key wildlife corridors; and continue to emphasize young growth projects. Bschor also told the supervisor to conduct environmental analysis of young growth projects to determine if there is interest in them.
The selected alternative for this project will allow the harvest of approximately 73 million board feet of timber, the construction of about 5 miles of new forest road, 17 miles of temporary road, and the reconstruction of about 2.8 miles of existing road. None of the sale units in the project area enter inventoried roadless areas.
The project area is 60 miles northwest of Ketchikan, Alaska, near the community of Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island. The project area encompasses over 56,000 acres but the record of decision only allows timber harvest on up to 3,400 acres within the area. It is projected that timber harvest from these units will provide between 251 and 356 jobs over the life of the project. The project can be implemented as early as October 9.
In a joint statement Friday four appellants, Juneau Group of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Tongass Conservation Society and Cascadia Wildlands, blasted the decision. They described Prince of Wales as a national treasure because of its unique ecological values. They also explained that high levels of past timber extraction and road construction had heavily compromised these values, and that the proposed project poses unjustifiable risks to the area's fish and wildlife populations, to subsistence uses, and to the primary drivers of the regional economy tourism and fishing.
Carol Cairnes, president of the Ketchikan-based Tongass Conservation Society, said that her organization' s members are dedicated to protecting biodiversity across the Tongass and returning plant and animal habitats as close to their natural condition as possible through sound management.
"We appealed the Logjam decision because the habitat has been severely damaged and is not recovered. The Forest Service is trying to conceal facts," Cairnes said. "Former Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas admonished the agency when he headed it to 'tell the truth all the time' and the Forest Service has not done that in the Logjam FEIS.
Cairnes also said that the Tongass plays an important role in global climate change mitigation. "The trees of the Tongass actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store huge amounts of it in the soil and vegetation. Projects like Logjam negate that key role, and that is a significant impact. We're taking a stand on the Logjam project because the best available science needs to be the bottom line for Tongass management concerning climate and fisheries habitat."
Larry Edwards of Greenpeace explained that "the Logjam Final EIS failed to follow the simple requirement of NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) to candidly disclose the impacts of the agency's intended action. A truthful 'hard look' at impacts is necessary, including a full and fair discussion of all responsibly raised issues. The Logjam FEIS failed to meet this standard regarding a number of important wildlife, fisheries and subsistence issues. The decision should have been revoked."
Edwards cited the project's 28 miles of new roads in an area where road density already exceeds Forest Plan guidelines as one of the key issues. "Wolf experts consider such a high road density to be a key factor toward unsustainable wolf mortality," said Edwards.
Edwards said, "Problems began in the draft EIS when the Forest Service made the patently false statement that the state had not raised a wolf mortality concern involving the project. Then, the FEIS and decision document avoided any disclosure or discussion of a subsequent letter on the matter from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. That letter raised significant environmental concerns, and the unethical cover-up violated NEPA."
Gabriel Scott of Cascadia Wildlands agreed with the concerns about increasing road densities in the project area. "The Forest Service has a twenty million dollar maintenance backlog on Prince of Wales Island, and yet it insists in the FEIS that project impacts to fish populations will be temporary on the basis of future mitigation." Scott said that his organization focused on this backlog in its appeal, particularly the numerous existing failed fish passage structures that block salmon from accessing spawning habitat.
Commercial fisherman Dave Beebe of nearby Petersburg agreed with Scott's concerns. "We depend on healthy fish populations," said Beebe. "But this project, combined with the Forest Service's large and growing backlog of avoided road maintenance and fish-blocked culverts in the area, is a significant detriment to our fisheries. Nearby watersheds on Prince of Wales Island are known for their repeated spawning failures, as a result of logging impacts. It is time to stop degrading the watersheds on the island and taking risks, but in planning this project the Forest Service glossed over the problems it had already created there."
Mark Rorick of the Sierra Club cited the enormous public cost associated with the timber sale program as another significant problem with the project. "This sale is just another example of a bad allocation of taxpayer's money that is being used to support a non- competitive industry that does harm to our environment."
Former Forest Service economist
Joe Mehrkens has tracked Tongass subsidies since 1977 and echoed
Rorick's concern about the costs associated with the project,
particularly the road subsidy and sale administration costs.
"The Logjam timber subsidy is a loss of 94 cents on every
taxpayer dollar spent," said
All of the appellants expressed disappointment that Regional Forester Bschor affirmed the decision rather than remanding it to Forest Supervisor Cole in order to correct the legal deficiencies. Cairnes said the four groups were evaluating their options at this point now that the appeal decision by the Forest Service has been finalized.
Alaska Governor Sean Parnell
on Friday welcomed the decision from the federal government's
regional forester for Alaska, Denny Bschor, to uphold the Logjam
timber sale in the Tongass National Forest. Bschor rejected an
appeal by several environmental groups that would have cut the
sale in half.
The timber sale will allow the harvest of 73 million board-feet of timber on Prince of Wales Island, near the community of Coffman Cove, about 60 miles northwest of Ketchikan.
Congressman Don Young and Senator Lisa Murkowski also sent a letter to Regional Forester Denny Bschor on September 16th expressing their concern over the appeals filed on the Record of Decision for the Logjam timber sale.
"Once again the extremists have put their own selfish concerns and fundraising goals ahead of the good of people, and I find it disgraceful," said Rep. Young. "Failure to approve this timber sale will result in job loss, and deliver a severe blow to an already suffering industry. These appeals need to be recognized for the sham that they are and rejected immediately."
In a prepared statement on
September 16th, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, "It's absolutely vital
for the health of the timber industry in Southeast that enough
timber be made available for mills to plan and finance their
operations. The Logjam sale and its three-year timber supply
is crucial for timber operations to continue on Prince of Wales
Young said, "This project
can get started as early as October 9th as long as the extreme
environmentalists stop putting their fundraising goals before
our people and don't file suit. I am incredibly encouraged by
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