JUNEAU — A federal government proposal to open parts of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest for commercial logging has raised protests from conservationists and questions from the timber industry.
The South Revilla project near Ketchikan involves more than 7.8 square miles of old-growth forest, CoastAlaska reported Wednesday.
The project is expected to support about 300 regional jobs by cutting a mix of old and young stands of trees for timber sales over the next 15 years, the U.S. Forest Service said.
The sales would largely be in the Carroll Inlet area, a patchwork of federal and state lands mixed with areas that have already been clear-cut by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, the Forest Service said.
The Forest Service’s draft environmental review said removing old-growth habitat may further fragment the forest, eliminating connectivity important to deer, wolf, mountain goat, marten and bear in an area used by subsistence hunters.
The timber sales would also affect Alexander archipelago wolves by decreasing prey in the deer habitat for 150 years or longer, the review said.
The agency has spent about $5.1 million in planning and preparation and offering a timber sale would cost another $8 million.
Larry Edwards of Alaska Rainforest Defenders in Sitka said the clear-cutting by the mental health trust cannot be changed, but there should not be additional logging on public lands owned by the state or federal government.
“The Forest Service is going back in, and they’re just picking out isolated areas of old growth that are left over,” Edwards said.
The agency justified the work by noting a steady supply of economic timber is needed to support Southeast Alaska’s forest products industry.
But the Alaska Forest Association said last year that the South Revilla project overlaps with a previous Saddle Lakes project that was aborted over a lack of interest.
“Why waste time analyzing and marking harvest units that have no hope of being financially viable,” the timber industry group wrote.
Eric Nichols of Alcan Forest Products, which exports logs to Asia, is skeptical the South Revilla project will find a buyer.
“You can’t buy it just to lose money on it,” he said.