Tonka Timber Sale
First announced in early 2009 by the Forest Service, the Tonka Timber Sale is one of the largest timber sales currently under evaluation on the Tongass National Forest. The proposed sale is southwest of the community of Petersburg on the Lindenberg Peninsula of Kupreanof Island and would log between 25.2 and 53.4 million board feet of old-growth timber and would require the construction of 10 miles of of new roads.
SEACC approached this sale with a focus on environmental impacts and long term jobs creation for nearby communities. Unfortunately, none of the alternatives proposed under the draft Enrivonmental Impact Statement for this project are designed to work in small sales over a long time scale--that is, none are designed for local mills. For this and other reasons, we were unable to support the sale as designed and instead proposed an alternative designed with local mills in mind and with additional protections for key subsistence deer hunting and crab fishing areas.
Pothole Log Storage Issue
A significant source on controversy in the Tonka Timber Sale has been the proposed use of Alexander Bay in Wrangell Narrows (known as the Pothole) for intermittent storage of log raft bundles. This area is important for commercial crabbing, and log storage is known to negatively affect the seafloor and crab populations.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has granted a request from the US Forest Service to allow log storage in the Pothole. They made this decision despite the fact that it requires a waiver of Alaska Timber Task Force guidelines for avoidance of sensitive habitats and minimum water depths. In addition, their justification for this decision failed to adaquately study other alternatives.
Both the Forest Service’s Tonka Record of Decision and the Department of Environmental Conservation lack a reasonable basis for concluding that use of the Pothole in Alexander Bay for log storage is reasonable and necessary. Two reports--ignored by both agencies--from 1981 and 1985 document subtidal investigations conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Alexander Bay and nearby Deception Point. The first report concluded that use of Alexander Bay was “unacceptable” due to “feeble bottom circulation [and] a partial sill at the entrance to the bay.” The 2nd report showed that there is at least one marine alternative, at nearby Deception Point, that minimizes impacts to the commercially valuable Pothole crab fishery. This new information also undermines DEC’s decision on May 23, 2012 that the Pothole is the only practicable alternative for Tonka log storage.
SEACC submitted comments to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on this proposed decision in April 2012. We also submitted a Formal Adjudicatory Request on June 22, 2012 to DEC, after the department issued a permit for log storage in the Pothole without completing the required analysis of economic and environmental impacts and consideration of alternatives that SEACC and others identified.
On October 5, 2012, Earthjustice submitted a letter to DEC Commissioner Hartig on SEACC’s behalf that requests the Commissioner to terminate the Pothole log storage authorization granted to the Forest Service for the recently approved Tonka timber sale. After reviewing DEC’s record for the permit, as well as the Forest Service’s record for the Tonka timber sale, it became apparent that the Forest Service had undermined the integrity of the DEC permitting process by letting DEC rely on information that the Forest Service knew to be false or misleading, failed to correct the record, and omitted other crucial, relevant information.
In November 2012, DEC wrote a letter to the USFS requesting a response to SEACC's challenge. Later in 2012, the USFS supplied this response. Through our partners and attorney's at Earthjustice, SEACC submitted a reply to the USFS on 1/11/13.