Skip to main content
Geos Institute helps communities build resilience in the face of climate change

Phase Out of Tongass Old-Growth Logging Can Begin Now If the Forest Service Acts Swiftly

For Immediate Release on August 25, 2014

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.

“We needed to address two critical issues that, frankly, had never been evaluated before using only Forest Service data, that 55-year old stands are actually there (not estimated), and that those stands are immediately accessible by currently open roads within the Tongass National Forest” stated Catherine Mater, President of Mater Ltd. “The open roads format allowed us to quickly eliminate those 55-year old stands where closed roads would make access cost-prohibitive.”

The Mater analysis now shows exactly where young stands are located with ready access and outside of sensitive lands that might cause conflict, and how much volume can be generated from them as an offset to harvesting old growth timber.

According to Mater, “Working with the Forest Service was crucial in securing official Tongass GIS data for the on the ground analysis.”  The analysis shows that beginning 2015 over 25-million log board feet of timber per year derived from second growth just in the Prince of Wales area, increasing to an annual and sustained supply of over 35- million log board feet per year.

According to Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist, Geos Institute and author of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World, “There are enough second growth trees on the Tongass right now to phase out old growth timber sales and create a win-win for wolves, salmon, subsistence users, and even the industry. The timber industry is already using the same young logs that they are saying are not ready on the Tongass. If the Forest Service acts now – rather than stalling for another ten years – they can save the rainforest and create a sustainable industry.”

Neil Lawrence, Natural Resources Defense Council, also called on the Administration to act swiftly on these findings. “The Forest Service has a unique opportunity to end controversial timber sales and promote a robust economy in the region that is ecologically responsible. The Mater report demonstrates that transition is possible right now. That’s good news for everyone in the region who benefits from the Tongass’ amazing natural values, as well as local businesses looking for a stable, low-conflict future. All the Forest Service has to do is get on with the transition ASAP.”

The Tongass lags behind other national forests in efforts to transition to more sustainable forestry practices.  Jim Furnish, former Siuslaw National Forest Supervisor, began a similar transition in the 1990s on the Siuslaw in Oregon. “Back in the 1990s, we were also faced with the difficulty of a rapid transition. But we determined to make it happen as quickly as possible, and our local timber industry responded well. Today, the Siuslaw harvests 40-million board feet a year by cutting only second growth.”

The Mater report noted that the Forest Service should begin a pilot program immediately to document lumber grade recovery potential from processing 55-year old second growth logs in southeast Alaska.

Click here to see the Sep. 5, 2014 OpEd by Dominick DellaSala in the Juneau Empire, “Time for Bold Actions on the Tongass Now, Not in 10 Years”

Click here to see the Sep. 27, 2014 New York Times article, “In Alaska, a Battle to Keep Trees, or an Industry, Standing”

Click here to see the September 29, 2014 editorial in the Juneau Empire, “It’s Time for Sustainable Logging”

Click here to see the Oct. 1, 2014 opinion by Tim Wirth in The Hill, “A not-so-happy birthday for America’s largest national forest”

Click here to see the Oct. 2, 2014 Juneau Empire article, “Visions of a quick switch: Conservationists try to prove second-growth timber harvests will work in Southeast”

Click here to see the Oct. 28, 2014 article in CoastAlaska News, “Report: Second-Growth Logging Can Start Now”

Click here to listen to the Nov. 10, 2014 KBOO radio interview with Dominick DellaSala.

Sign up with a monthly donation and become part of our Cornerstone Network. Network members recieve the messages posted here first, delivered directly to your inbox. Your ongoing support is the foundation of our work.

Join the Cornerstone Network