Under the agreement, the Forest Service will delay offering expensive helicopter logging sale units, and four units in a roadless area. The agency will first offer more economical, non-helicopter units designed for smaller timber operators. The Forest Service also agreed to modify some units to lessen the impact of logging on fish, bear and deer habitat. In return, the conservation groups will not challenge the sale until or unless the delayed units are offered.
"We hope the success from working together on this sale leads to a new, more collaborative and community-based way of managing the Tongass," said Russell Heath, SEACC's Executive Director. "The Forest Service gets a sale out the door, the local mills get access to the timber they need and the community gets a healthier forest for hunting, fishing and recreation."
The agreement is a direct result of the groundwork and relationship building fostered through the Tongass Futures Roundtable, a 35-member group brought together two years ago by The Nature Conservancy. That's according to Forrest Cole, Supervisor for the 17-million-acre Tongass.
"This resolution indicates that collaborative work by the Tongass Futures Roundtable is beginning to produce results," said Cole. "Working together can make possible the kinds of benefits that will ultimately lead to better management of resources, as well as an improved economy for Southeast Alaska communities."
The deal also includes managing the sale schedule so that only an average of 2 million board feet (mmbf) is logged each year. Local mills often cannot compete with outside timber companies for large sales, so the smaller sale volume is more in line with local needs.
"We are a local business providing jobs in our local community. We feel we can compete for this sale and process the wood to supply high-value wood products for the building industry," said Wes Tyler, owner of Icy Straits Lumber in Hoonah. The mill currently uses around 1 mmbf per year; however the mill would like to increase its production.
The Forest Service also agreed to perform thinning and other restoration work on certain areas of second growth to enhance habitat vital to deer and other wildlife.
"This area has been heavily logged in the past, so we wanted to protect the valuable places that are left, encourage restoration of other areas for the local community, and begin to start thinking about a new type of land management paradigm for the Tongass National Forest. We did not want a sale that only worked for an outside operator to come in and log," said Andrew Thoms, Executive Director of the Sitka Conservation Society. "It's encouraging that we were able to work with the Forest Service to accomplish some of those things."