The Alaska Forest Association is urging the U.S. Forest Service to restore the 2008 timber sale schedule for the Tongass National Forest, pointing out that a newly revised schedule would utilize only a quarter of the timberlands that were to be set aside for logging in the forest’s land management plan.
The 2008 Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP) promised to deliver up to 267 million board feet (mmbf) annually, but a 2008 five-year timber sale schedule along with four promised ten-year timber sales provided only about 190 mmbf of timber annually. The latest five-year schedule cuts the volume in half to 92 mmbf.
“The primary cause of the reduced volume in the new schedule appears to be the avoidance of timber sales in roadless areas,” said Owen Graham, Executive Director of the Alaska Forest Association. “Fully half of the timberlands scheduled for harvest in the 2008 TLMP are in roadless areas. Another quarter of the TLMP scheduled timberlands hold immediate timber – timber that is growing well, but will not be physically or economically mature for decades.”
Graham pointed out that “the actual volume of timber that might ultimately become available from this plan may be too low to support even the single, medium-size sawmill that is currently in operation on the forest.”
Graham urged the Forest Service to complete the ten-year timber sales as promised, making available 150-200 mmbf annually, not 3080 mmbf as the agency is now planning. He also urged it to prepare and implement timber sales to sustain the forest products industry and allow it to expand to the level permitted by the 2008 TLMP.
Graham also recommended the agency work with the state and industry on “full implementation of TLMP – including utilizing all the lands that were designated as ‘suitable and available’ and making project level changes in Standards and Guidelines where necessary in order to facilitate the preparation of economic timber sales.”
The association noted Forest Service implementation of the 2008 TLMP is proceeding slowly with only ten percent of the scheduled timber sale volume made available to industry. “This is primarily a result of economic deficiencies in the Forest Plan,” Graham said, adding that “two-thirds of this latest schedule is comprised of timber sale projects that appraise deficit.”
Regarding the schedule for young growth thinning, Graham noted the cost to harvest 5,000 acres under proposed stewardship contracts for wildlife habitat enhancement in 2013 will be in excess of $25 million, but the value of the immature young-growth timber to local sawmills will be less than $8 million. He said the projected $17 million loss to taxpayers is unnecessary. “I recognize that some may assert an enhanced deer habitat benefit but that habitat enhancement would come at a cost of $200,000 per deer or $4,000 a pound for the meat. Continuing the normal timber sale program will provide similar benefits for wildlife without the huge financial impact.”
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