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12/30/2017
USFS prepares enviro report: Vallenar Young-Growth Project

By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer

A preliminary environmental assessment has been prepared for the Vallenar Young-Growth Project, and the U.S. Forest Service is seeking another round of public comments.

The gist of the environmental assessment is that no significant impact to the land, plants or animals is anticipated. This conclusion came after a period of analysis by the Forest Service.

According to the assessment, the proposed harvest area is with approximately 155 acres of forest, which would bring the estimate of total harvestable timber to 4.6 million board feet. Also included in the project is the reconditioning of 1.2 miles of road in the Vallenar Bay area of Gravina Island.

The environmental assessment focuses on determining what impact logging Vallenar Bay would have on that area’s ecosystem. The 20-page document outlines in detail the following categories and analyzes the impact of forest vegetation, invasive plant species, botany, soils, timber economics, fisheries and aquatics, and wild life.

The assessment also outlines the contents of the timber stand itself, as well as site productivity in the Vallenar Bay area.

“The stand consists mainly of Sitka spruce and lesser amounts of western hemlock and red alder. Alder is distributed throughout the stand typically in previously disturbed areas and along streams,” the assessment reads. “… Site productivity is high, and trees are typically vigorous, well-formed, and free of damage from insects and disease.”

Also included in the report are approximations of how logging the young-growth timber in this area might impact the economics of the community.

“Estimates indicate that 10 annualized jobs related to logging could be supported and another seven jobs in transportation and other related services including those related to export such as stevedoring employment from the Proposed Action,” the assessment reads. “Direct income from this employment is estimated at $1,029,574.”

In totality, the report essentially concludes that there would be little significant impact on the environment in the area and that the plan should continue, given that analysis.

Tongass National Forest Supervisor M. Earl Stewart also writes in the preliminary assessment that no environmental impact statement will be prepared, given the findings.

“After a thorough review of the (environmental assessment), comments received, and consideration of the Forest Plan and documentation included in the project record,” Stewart writes, “I have determined that the proposed action will not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment. As a result, no environmental impact statement will be prepared.”

There was previously a 30-day scoping period for the proposed project that began in May. The Forest Service ended up extending that public comment and scoping period by 15 days, and received a number of comments.

“Collectively, we received seven letters from interested parties, resulting in 41 individual comments,” the assessment reads. “After reviewing the comments, the Forest Service determined that there were no concerns that have not been addressed through project mitigation and design.”

Moving forward from that scoping period, the Forest Service began working on the environmental assessment being presently considered. Now that the required legal notice has been published, those interested have 30 days from Dec. 29 to submit their comments.

According to a press release from Ketchikan-Misty Fjords District Ranger Susan Howle, the Forest Service will be accepting public comments through a variety of means, including electronic, hand-delivered and mailed.

The Forest Service ultimately foresees potential implementation of the harvest to begin this coming summer.

The full preliminary environmental assessment and supporting documents can be downloaded from www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=51766.