US Forest Service seeks public comment on proposed Wrangell Timber Sale
The U.S. Forest Service is asking for public comment on a proposed timber sale on Wrangell Island.Download AudioThe U.S. Forest Service released five alternatives in their draft environmental impact statement for the Wrangell Island Project on June 2. Its preferred alternative would allow two thirds of the acreage to be selectively harvested and a third clear cut, producing about 65 million board feet.U.S. Forest Service’s preferred alternative for Wrangell timber sale.That’s down 8 million board feet from the last time the Forest Service sought public comment on the idea in the fall of 2015.Wrangell District Ranger Bob Darymple said the harvest would take place over three to five years.“It’s wide open to the public right now,” he said. “Depending on the results of that public comment, we will have to decide at that point whether we would need to do additional alternatives or not and put out another draft or just move to the final.”The Forest Service has been working on the project for over five years. With the impact statement in the 45-day public comment period, the public can hash out what they would like to see. The five alternatives range from about 43 million board feet to 65 million or no timber sale at all.Board member of the Alaska Forest Association, George Woodbury, says he’s disappointed with the size of the harvest.“Without volume, you don’t have the raw material to run the operation, you’re out of luck. It’s very critical to take a hard look to how you can get the volume out, put sales out that are economic,” Woodbury said.He says he’s concerned about a lack of timber sales in Southeast leading to more mills closing their doors.“There’s been a huge shrinkage of the industry because of the lack of timber,” Woodbury said. “The objective that the association has had is to try to restore some of those jobs and create the wealth that those mills produced and help the economy of both Wrangell and the other towns in Southeast.”Darymple said the low volume is partially because Alaska is no longer exempt from the “roadless rule,” a Forest Service ban on logging and road building on millions of acres of national forest. He says the Forest Service also wanted to relax some of the Tongass Forest Plan’s environmental protections to boost the volume of the proposed harvest.“That got really complicated in the sense that the forest plan itself was now under amendment,” Darymple said. “We then went back and basically. All the alternatives stay completely within the forest plan. There are no reductions or relaxing of environmental protection measures that are provided by the forest plan now.”Some consider those environmental protections too mild. Buck Lindekugel is an attorney for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, or SEACC. He says they are unhappy with the volume of the proposal.“Instead of cutting the rest of the old growth that supports a whole variety of uses on Wrangell Island, the Forest Serve ought to look at ways of integrating stewardship, restoration activities and supplying timber off the existing road system to the small mills in the area,” Lindekugel said.Lindekugel thinks Southeast should no longer rely on the timber industry as an economic driver.“The driving economic forces continue to be fishing and tourism and recreation as well as traditional uses, folks going out and hunting and fishing to meet their own needs,” Lindekugel said.The proposed alternatives could build up to 17 miles of new national forest roads, some of which will stay open to the public and about 15 miles of temporary roads. Wrangell District Ranger Darymple said the earliest timber sale would be mid to late summer 2017.Public comments will be accepted until July 18. Paper copies of the draft environmental impact statement are available at the Wrangell Ranger District and the Forest Supervisor’s Office in Ketchikan.