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By CATHY BOLLING
Island Post Staff Writer
U.S. Forest Service staff heard objections and compliments on its Prince of Wales Landscape Level Analysis at the Feb. 20 objectors meeting in Klawock.
The Forest Service’s Final Environmental Impact Statement and draft Record of Decision, released in October, reflect a new approach to forest management on the 1.8-million-acre Prince of Wales District. The landscape level analysis takes a broad look at desired types of activities on the island district over the next 15 years, with specifics to be spelled out later. That lack of “site-specific analysis” was a repeated concern among several objectors.
In his opening remarks, Alasak Regional Forester David Schmid thanked those who participated, which include the 27 people who attended in person and the 12 or more who called in. Objections had already been received in writing and the objectors meeting was not a “mandatory” meeting, but Schmid said he believed strongly in hearing directly from people.
Schmid previously served as Thorne Bay District ranger and returned to Alaska from Montana this past year. He has participated in several objectors meetings, and said he has found them to be more productive, resulting in less litigation.
“I’ve seen it help us get to much better decisions, … stronger decisions and we have a lot more consensus around some of those decisions,” he said.
He also called the meeting to honor the work of the island-wide collaborative Prince of Wales Landscape Assessment Team, the Forest Service’s interdisciplinary team that worked on the project, and to allow objectors and stakeholders to hear one another’s positions. Schmid will make recommendations to Tongass Forest Supervisor M. Earl Stewart, who will decide whether to amend or finalize the record of decision.
Outgoing Craig and Thorne Bay District Ranger Matt Anderson sat at the table with Schmid and Stewart. Other Forest Service staff attended as well, some telephonically.
The Forest Service received 15 objections, nine from environmental groups and six from individuals. On Feb. 20, 12 of the 15 objecting parties or individuals spoke, and each were given 10 to 15 minutes.
POWLLA addresses several areas of resource management, although EarthJustice attorney Holly Harris, participating by phone, referred to it as “The Prince of Wales Logging Project.”
“The Prince of Wales Logging Project is not environmentally nor economically sustainable. If you approve this project, the Forest Service will violate the law,” she said.
Harris did not fault the collaborative input, but how the agency handled the recommendations, she said. The environmental analysis underlying the project failed to meet basic National Environmental Policy Act and other obligations to assess impacts on people and wildlife, and ignored expert scientific opinion, even that of agency staff, she said.
Harris criticized the lack of site-specific details and also predicted that, while the Forest Service was vague on funding for projects other than timber, “what we know we are going to see is the logging.”
The draft ROD proposes harvest for up to 235 million board feet over the 15-year period, in decreasing volumes, and up to 421 million board feet of young growth timber over 15 years, in increasing volumes.
The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Rainforest Defenders and Defenders of Wildlife were among the 10 supporters of Earth Justice’s objections.
By phone, Dan Cannon of SEACC and the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, added that the agency also violated the National Forest Management Act in failing to require adequate analysis before recommending treating karst for invasive plants.
At the beginning of his comments, Cannon thanked Forest Service workers who worked on POWLLA during the partial government shutdown.
“Thank you for your sacrifice,” he said.
POWLAT Chair Jon Bolling, at the meeting, gave a history of the formation of the island-wide collaborative group, which had contributed several proposals that were used in the preferred alternative within the draft record of decision. About 12 POWLAT members attended as well.
In conclusion, Bolling said POWLAT’s document “… was not a product I would have written … not one that any of us would have written,” but reflected many viewpoints coming together as a community.
Addressing comments on the lack of site specificity, Stewart acknowledged the challenge of transitioning from one process to another. Regular and recurring meetings are expected with proponents and with the communities that have helped shape the project, he said.
Objector Clarence Clark of Ketchikan, in person, said he supported the landscape analysis as “the way management of the Tongass should go in the future.” However, he believes that parts of the project violate the Tongass Forest Plan, particularly goals and objectives for timber production land-use designations.
Objector Robert “Mike” Sheets of Craig, also in person, disclosed he is the young-growth coordinator for the Tongass National Forest, but spoke as a property owner, not an employee. His family owns about 40 acres near Red Bay at the island’s north end, and he raised issues about the lack of road maintenance on some of the far-north island roads, as well as safety concerns near his property, which borders Forest Service lands. Sheets also asked the Forest Service to consider again issuing permits for rock.
Other objectors and their main concerns included:
• Alaska Forest Association Executive Director Owen Graham, in attendance, who suggested a cap on the small scale-set aside program, plus allowing salvage of blowdown north of the 20 Road. Also, he asked the Forest Service to correct false or misleading statements about declining timber markets, the profitability of young-growth forests, young-growth economic criteria, deer impact, and watersheds classified as “degraded.”
• Jaelyn Kookesh, attending in person to represent Sealaska, who also asked that false or misleading statements be corrected, and requested clarification on federal Roadless Rule changes and the rollover of unused offerings.
• Susan Culliney, by telephone with Audubon Alaska, who noted the large-scale old-growth habitat that has been removed from POW over decades.
• George Woodbury, calling in from Wrangell, who was concerned about litigation slowing the flow of timber, and the lack of economic detail in the draft ROD.
• Larry Edwards, calling in with Alaska Rainforest Defenders, who said the “no action” alternative should be adopted or the NEPA process should be scrapped and started over.
• James Kelly, a former Forest Service employee at Thorne Bay, who spoke about the lack of NEPA process.
• Austin Williams, calling in with Trout Unlimited, who commended the Forest Service for soliciting public input but found the lack of site-specific information troublesome.
•¶Patrick Lavin, with Defenders of Wildlife, who found fault with the lack of site-specific analysis and lack of a biologically preferred old-growth reserve configuration.
Other interested parties spoke after hearing from objectors. Greg Staunton, area forester with State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, attended the meeting and offered no objections, but did suggest the Forest Service take a second look at its offerings for the small-sale industry.
Three other POWLAT members at the meeting also spoke on record. Patrick Tierney spoke on the need to establish plant nurseries to produce seedlings and other native plant materials, such as yellow cedar, for reforestation, reclamation and habitat improvement. Michael Kampnich called attention to wolf and bear predation, and stem exclusion, all impacting deer and their habitat.
POWLAT member and Viking Lumber employee Bert Burkhart said the big concern he heard during POWLAT meetings was jobs.
“All we are trying to do is survive,” Burkhart said. “... Everybody has kind of pulled together and said, ‘Hey look, there’s just a few of us left, let’s keep going.’”
The objectors were given yet one last opportunity to comment. Without further comment, the meeting concluded around noon.