Juneau Empire Opinion:
Logging in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is an industry that faltered many times before getting off the ground. Yet once it did, it took off with the momentum of a steam engine and with support from all over the state.
by Dominick DellaSala for the Juneau Empire
Like many who care about Alaska’s economy and its world-class rainforests, I witnessed the recent news coverage on the Big Thorne timber sale as the latest boxing match over old growth logging. Each prizefighter staked out familiar ground — conservationists sued over old growth logging, industry claimed the sky was falling and the Undersecretary of Agriculture assumed the referee position (“My Turn” in the Juneau Empire, Aug. 25).
Contacts: Catherine Mater, Mater Ltd. (541-753-7335); Dominick DellaSala, Ph.D., Geos Institute (541-482-4459 x 302, 541-621-7223); Nathaniel Lawrence, Natural Resources Defense Council (360-534-9900); Jim Furnish, Retired Siuslaw National Forest Supervisor (240-271-1650)
A recently released study of second growth availability on the Tongass rainforest questions the assumptions made by the Forest Service that they need to log old-growth rainforests for ten or more years until second growth is ready. The Forest Service announced in May that it was transitioning timber sales from old growth to second growth but expected another 10 to 15 years of old growth logging that has proven controversial. This new study shows that transition can begin immediately and finish up in no more than 5 years, shifting logging to previously logged and roaded second growth areas outside of sensitive resource lands.
A 2014 study update commissioned by the Ashland-Oregon based Geos Institute and Natural Resources Defense Council used recent Forest Service timber data to conclusively show that the agency has immediate access to supplies of second growth similar to trees already being logged on private lands in southeast Alaska. A preliminary study conducted by Oregon-based Mater Ltd. released in 2013 used prior Forest Service and Tongass Futures Roundtable estimates to determine the number of second growth acres already pre-commercially thinned that could be harvested at 55-years of age to meet market demand. Recent research financed by The Nature Conservancy determined the desired log characteristics for a dedicated small log processing operation on Prince of Wales Island could be obtained from 55-year old hemlock and spruce stands. The 55-year harvest level, currently practiced by the southeast Alaska private timber industry, contrasts with the Forest Service’s practice of waiting until second growth is 90 years old before harvesting it. With funding from Geos and NRDC, and assistance from the Tongass National Forest (for GIS data), Mater Ltd. and Oregon-based Conservation Biology Institute updated the initial report with the region’s first map of accessible second growth using GIS data supplied by the Tongass National Forest.
Juneau Empire Opinion Piece by Jim Furnish
Big changes are coming for the Tongass National Forest. Agency officials should seize the opportunity to make a clean break with their turbulent past, and do this as quickly as possible. Much good will come for all concerned by swiftly ceasing clearcut logging of old-growth forests.
Contacts: Catherine Mater, President, Mater Engineering (541-753-7335); Dominick DellaSala, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, Geos Institute (541-482-4459 x 302, 541-621-7223); Nathaniel Lawrence, Natural Resources Defense Council (360-534-9900); Jim Furnish, Retired Siuslaw National Forest Supervisor (240-271-1650)
A recently released study of second growth availability on the Tongass National Forest shows that the U.S. Forest Service can end industrial old growth logging there within 5 years while, if it chooses, still increasing the total volume of trees harvested. The Forest Service announced in May that it was considering transitioning timber sales from old growth to second growth but within 10 to 15 years. The new study shows that transition can begin immediately and finish in no more than 5 years, shifting logging to second growth in previously logged and roaded areas outside of sensitive resource lands.
A 2014 study update commissioned by Geos Institute and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) conclusively shows that there is immediate access to supplies of second growth trees that could be harvested in southeast Alaska as an alternative to harvesting old growth trees. The original study conducted by Oregon-based Mater Ltd. released in 2013 used Forest Service and Tongass Futures Roundtable data to estimate the number of second growth acres already pre-commercially thinned that could be harvested at 55-years of age. Prior research financed by The Nature Conservancy determined the desired log characteristics for a dedicated small log processing operation on Prince of Wales Island could be obtained from 55-year old hemlock and spruce stands.
[Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net 202/628-6500]
Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest could transition completely to second-growth logging within the next five years, according to a new report from an Oregon-based consulting firm.
The report by Mater Engineering Ltd. said sufficient trees are available in previously logged, roaded stands in areas the Forest Service has already designated for logging.
But the transition would require the area’s logging and manufacturing infrastructure to be upgraded to process small-diameter logs. It would also require changes to Forest Service rules to allow trees to be harvested at an earlier age.
The report was commissioned by the Geos Institute, an Ashland, Ore.-based nonprofit that aims to protect forests in the face of climate change.
“We were surprised by how much 55-year-old second-growth volume could be obtained to offset old-growth logs in the Prince of Wales region and that the transition could be notably accelerated if the administration adopts policy changes on when younger forests can be re-harvested,” said Mater Engineering consultant Catherine Mater.
Quickly phasing out old-growth logging on the 17-million-acre Tongass, one of the world’s few remaining intact temperate rainforests, could also provide a market for private landowners including the Sealaska Corp. to harvest more young growth, the report said.
The report comes as debate rages over Forest Service plans to allow limited old-growth logging to sustain local mills while it transitions to young growth. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in July issued a memo saying that within 15 years, the “vast majority” of timber harvested on the nation’s largest national forest will be young growth (Greenwire, July 5).
Conservationists argue the transition must happen more quickly, but a logging official suggested it will take roughly twice as much time for second-growth trees to be old enough to cut.
“There is clear potential to stimulate a new economic model in southeast Alaska where a viable wood products industry works side by side with ecologically sustainable tourism and fishing,” said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist of the Geos Institute.
The report found a base-line volume of 15 million board feet per year is needed to establish and sustain the processing of second-growth logs in an existing, but upgraded, medium-sized sawmill in the Prince of Wales region.
The Forest Service would have to lift the so-called cumulative mean annual increment (CMAI) — which requires most trees to grow until they are 90 years old before being cut — in order to allow the harvest of 55-year stands, the report said.
Vilsack’s plan endorsed a bill by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would allow the Forest Service to change CMAI, allowing it to harvest second-growth timber sooner. But the bill, S. 340, is strongly opposed by conservation groups since it would convey public forests to a private corporation.
Vilsack’s plan calls for allocating more Forest Service staff and resources into planning second-growth timber sales, considering amending the forest plan to speed the transition, and supporting research into second-growth management and wood markets.
It encourages the Agriculture Department to offer financial assistance to retool mill equipment to more efficiently process younger timber and to establish a federal advisory committee to provide stakeholder input.
A primary concern of the Forest Service is the low availability of second-growth trees in a forest where industrial harvests did not begin in earnest until the 1950s.
For Immediate Release – October 28, 2013
Dominick A. DellaSala, Geos Institute – (541) 482-4459 x 302, (541)-621-7223 (cell)
Catherine Mater, Mater Ltd. – (541) 753-7335
Ashland, OR – A new report prepared by Oregon-based Mater Ltd., using updated Forest Service timber acreage and age class distribution data, shows that the agency could complete transition to supplying a second growth logging economy in Southeast Alaska within 5 years.
In May 2010, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a framework to transition away from old growth logging on the Tongass National Forest, something the Forest Service said it believed could be done “quickly.” Early this month, Forest Service officials announced their “focus on identifying the timber base suitable to support a transition to young-growth management, in a way that supports the continued viability of the forest industry in Southeast Alaska.”
The Mater report shows such a transition could take place in as little as 5 years, shifting exclusively to previously logged stands of second growth, in the current land base already designated for logging and close to existing roads. Along with logging and manufacturing infrastructure adapted to work with small diameter logs, the transition would require changes to rules about how soon second growth stands can be cut. The report also recommends an aggressive regime to research and identify new value-added lumber grades and products to meet existing market demand.
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