Logging violations expand on Afognak

Posted: Sunday, December 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Logging violations performed by workers for the Afognak Native Corp. are worse than anticipated, state officials say.

The area on Afognak Island where the infractions occurred is more than twice as big as originally reported. The timber company involved also removed the logs despite being told to leave them on the ground.

Some 114 trees were illegally removed, said Jim Eleazer, coastal regional forester. If the commissioner of natural resources pursues charges, potential fines could be as high as $1.14 million. That's $10,000 for each tree.

Loggers for Afognak Native Corp. acknowledged last month cutting down to the banks of a silver salmon stream along a roughly 260-foot stretch. They should have left a swath of trees 66 feet wide on either side of the creek to protect the fish as required by state law.

What the loggers didn't say was that they also cut too close to the banks of the same stream in another nearby harvest unit, said habitat biologist David Ryland. The chopped area is some 420 feet long, about a football field and a half in length.

Unlike the first unit where the trees were cut clear down to the banks, the second area wasn't quite so bad, said Ryland, who visited the area in November and again this week. In one spot, the banks were completely sheared. But mostly the loggers left an inadequate tree buffer of 12 to 20 feet, he said.

Fish streams need buffers to protect the habitat from sedimentation and exposure to sunlight. Forested banks also provide nutrients and woody debris from dead and dying trees.

Roberta Townsend Vennel, the president of Afognak Native Corp., said in a recent letter to the governor she was proud of the company's environmental stewardship and plans to fully cooperate with the state investigation.

State forestry officials have said Afognak has a generally good track record as far as environmental compliance.

Eleazer said he doesn't know why the loggers didn't tell Ryland or Wade Wahrenbrock, a state forestry official who inspected the area, about the other infraction. He also said it's unclear why the company removed the logs without state permission.

''Until we get all the information in, and can review all the information, we just can't jump to conclusions,'' Eleazer said.

The investigation is still continuing and will probably be complete next month, he said.

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