Forest Service Backs Down, Cancels Controversial Tongass Old-growth Timber Sale
PETERSBURG, Alaska— The U.S. Forest Service has formally withdrawn its March authorization of the Mitkof Island Project — a large, 35-million-board-foot timber sale — through documents made available to the public on its website yesterday.
On behalf of five environmental organizations, Crag brought suit against the Forest Service in May to stop the sale. Those organizations are Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
“The agency was forced to walk away from this timber sale because it failed to listen to serious environmental concerns raised by the local community,” said Gabe Scott with Cascadia Wildlands. “If the agency simply intends to redraw the project’s scope, it will still be faced with the same realities about the needs of subsistence hunters and the precarious state of old-growth dependent species on Mitkof Island.”
The proposed timber sale is located in the center of the Tongass National Forest, near the communities of Petersburg and Kupreanof. Last month the agency, whose cursory environmental review found that logging the remaining old-growth in the project area would have no significant impact on the forest or wildlife, announced its intent to withdraw the decision to authorize the project.
“Mitkof Island has been hard hit by 60 years of industrial logging,” said Becky Knight of Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, a Petersburg resident. “Subsistence hunters from the community rely on deer as a primary source of protein, but for years have been faced with critically low deer populations and severe harvest restrictions. This area of the Tongass needs a long period of recovery, but this sale targeted some of the few remaining stands of important winter deer habitat.”
“While planning for this sale, the Forest Service tried to downplay and hide from the public the full scope of the damage this logging would cause,” said Randi Spivak at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency initially told the public this was a ‘small sale’ but the project ballooned into a major timber sale. Old-growth logging needs to end now.”
“The Forest Service must take a hard look at the environmental consequences of its actions, especially with respect to species like the deer and the goshawk that depend on old-growth forests,” said Crag’s Oliver Stiefel. “In a rush to approve yet another major old-growth timber sale, the Tongass National Forest brushed aside these environmental concerns and fast-tracked the project.”
The formal withdrawal notice provides hope to those who depend on Mitkof for a variety uses, including hunting, recreation, fishing and wildlife viewing, that destructive old-growth timber sales like the Mitkof project will indeed be a thing of the past.