Resource Development Council

9th Circuit gives green light to Big Thorne timber sale in Tongass

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a request by environmental groups to halt the Big Thorne timber sale in the Tongass National Forest, clearing the way for the harvesting of sorely needed timber for the region’s last remaining medium-size sawmill.

A federal judge in March had halted the project to allow the 9th Circuit to decide whether an extended injunction against logging was needed. Viking Lumber Company, which won a contract last fall from the U.S. Forest Service to cut Big Thorne timber, is now out in the woods harvesting logs for its Klawock sawmill on Prince of Wales Island west of Ketchikan.

“We are very pleased to see the logging move forward because the Viking sawmill was facing imminent closure due to a lack of logs,” said RDC Executive Director Rick Rogers. RDC was an intervening party in defense of the timber sale, along with the state, the Alaska Forest Association, Viking, and other entities.

The appeals court still must decide on the merits of the environmental groups’ appeal in the coming months.

“Appellants seek to achieve through procedural delay something they could not accomplish on the merits: closure of the last remaining mid-sized sawmill in Southeast Alaska,” intervenors said in its argument to the court.

Viking is expected to complete about 17 percent of its multi-year Big Thorne logging contract in 2015. The contract offers 97 million board feet of timber over a ten-year period. Included is a requirement for Viking to perform habitat restoration work in the forest.

The Big Thorne project is at the center of a dispute between environmentalists, the Forest Service, and the forest products industry over how quickly to transition from old-growth to second-growth logging in the Tongass. The Forest Service wants the transition to occur over the next 10 to 15 years while environmental groups are demanding that all old-growth logging end now.

The industry has argued most secondgrowth trees are not fully mature and will not be ready to harvest for at least two decades. In the meantime, a mix of old-growth and second-growth harvests are needed to sustain what remains of Southeast Alaska’s forest industry. Approximately 85 percent of the forest’s old growth remains intact and less than 10 percent is scheduled for logging over the next 100 years.

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