Forest Service prepares Tongass 10-year contracts

Posted: Tuesday, July 01, 2003

KETCHIKAN (AP) The U.S. Forest Service is preparing to offer 10-year timber sale contracts on the Tongass National Forest.

Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor said this week in a letter to Gov. Frank Murkowski that the agency will attempt to offer one or more 10-year timber sale contracts that would be 50 to 100 million board feet each. He said the sales will be advertised for competitive bid.

The Forest Service has had difficulty offering and selling Tongass timber in recent years because of the national Roadless Conservation Rule, court appeals and a now-lifted logging injunction.

The roadless rule prohibits road building, timber harvesting and other development in roadless areas of national forests, including the 16.8 million-acre Tongass. The agency said earlier this month it would pursue a temporary regulation to exempt the Tongass and Chugach national forests from the rule.

Bschor wrote that if the Tongass is exempted from the rule, the goal of the Forest Service program is to move toward about five, 10-year timber sales under contract. He said the Tongass' overall goal is to have three years of economical timber supply under contract.

Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, said the timber industry, with help from the governor's office, has been pursuing long-term contracts for more than a year.

He said sawmills such as Pacific Log and Lumber near Ketchikan have had trouble securing bank financing for projects without a firm supply.

''The sawmills, in order to survive, have to make significant investments over time. Because the supply is so tenuous, they've had trouble going to the bank to get financing,'' Graham said.

The contracts could help operating sawmills and future ventures such a veneer plant in Ketchikan or a fiberboard facility, he said. The Forest Service has about 600 million board feet and 29 sales of Tongass timber in some stage of preparation.

Tongass rangers have been preparing to offer about 200 million board feet next year in roaded areas. New offers will include projects released by the now-defunct Gateway Forest Products, the agency said.

Tongass timber operators cut 34 million board feet of wood in fiscal year 2002. They currently have about 100 million board feet under contract, according to the Forest Service.

Aurah Landau, a grassroots organizer with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said the long-term sales might not be as helpful as the industry claims, especially if the wood is exported.

''You're not going to create jobs as long as you're exporting,'' she said.

Landau said the timber sales also will create conflicts in areas where there also is hunting and recreation.

Independent timber operators have cut an annual average of 67 million board feet of wood between 1983 and 2002, according to SEACC. The number doesn't include long-term contracts held by Southeast Alaska pulp mills.

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