Last week, the U.S. Forest Service approved another timber sale in an area previously protected from logging by the controversial Clinton-era “roadless rule.” Both of the new timber sales are to take place in Southeast Alaska, where dwindling natural resources and a sluggish economy have conspired to drive unemployment rates to unprecedented highs.
Passed in the waning hours of President Clinton’s final term, the so-called “roadless rule” called for permanently closing more than 58 million acres of federal land to development and resource extraction. This past July, the Bush administration replaced the roadless rule with a new plan requiring state governors to petition the Forest Service to block any road-building in their states for logging purposes.
This latest sale under the new plan is scheduled to take place on Gravina Island, across Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan, and would yield 38 million board feet of timber from approximately 1,800 acres. The first sale since overturning the roadless rule—a 665-acre harvest on Kuiu Island nearby—was approved last month.
“Supporting our local communities is an important part of what we do, and offering this timber sale is a way we can accomplish that goal,” Tongass supervisor Forrest Cole said. “I’m very concerned about the economic health of Southeast Alaska communities, and my hope is this project will help our local, family run mills keep operating and create jobs.”
According to federal officials, the Gravina sale could generate nearly 240 jobs and would require the construction of more than 21 miles of road to access the timber.
Some 7,000 people, including many environmentalists and tribal members, expressed concern during a public comment period prior to approval that the Gravina sale could harm subsistence resources and recreational opportunities in what is still one of the most pristine areas of Southeast Alaska.