Timber companies, economists weigh impact of logging injunction

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A logging injunction in the Tongass National Forest cost Viking Lumber more than $1 million last year, a company official said during a hearing on Thursday.

Kirk Dahlstrom, general manager at the sawmill on Prince of Wales Island, said the mill could shut down without access to the South Arm and Four Leaf timber sales this year.

Silver Bay Logging expects to lose 50 jobs if an injunction applies to Upper Carroll, King George and South Lindy timber sales this year.

''Several words come to mind, but disastrous is one of them,'' said Errol Champion, an executive with the Wrangell company.

U.S. District Judge James Singleton is presiding over a hearing to consider whether a ban is needed this year.

Singleton issued a two-month injunction last March after determining the Forest Service failed to consider some areas eligible for wilderness designation in the 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan.

Environmental groups are asking for a ban as the Forest Service works on a court-ordered wilderness review this year.

Silver Bay and Viking have asked to be allowed five timber sales in disputed areas of the Tongass this summer.

A three-day evidentiary hearing concluded on Friday. Testimony focused on economic impacts.

Jim Calvin, of McDowell Group, said the number of timber jobs in the Tongass National Forest dropped from 2,500 in 1990 to between 600 and 650 today.

If Viking and Silver Bay close sawmills, population, school enrollment and sales tax revenues would decline further, Calvin said.

Dahlstrom said Viking lost between $1.3 million and $1.4 million during last year's injunction.

The Viking sawmill employs 30 people and is in the process of hiring eight more workers, Dahlstrom said. Silver Bay plans to hire another 35 people at its mill this year, said Champion.

If Silver Bay and Viking close, Gateway Forest Products in Ketchikan also would suffer because it gets veneer logs from other Southeast Alaska mills, said Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association.

Up to 334 jobs could be lost in Southeast Alaska even if an injunction is denied, said Juneau Economist Gregg Erickson.

But Erickson said regional figures that exclude Juneau show Southeast Alaska's economy has actually grown over the past decade despite the decline in the timber industry.

''What we know shows it isn't going to be the disaster scenario that people who might lose their jobs would like me to say,'' Erickson said.

During testimony Wednesday, wildlife biologist John Schoen said cutting old-growth timber has an adverse affect on deer, brown bear, goshawks and wolves in Southeast Alaska.

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