Alaska Rainforest Defenders filed scoping comments this August on the “Prince of Wales Landscape Level Analysis” (POWLLA). A draft EIS is scheduled for early next year. The POWLLA, although green-washed by the Forest Service as being an effort to “improve forest ecosystem health,” is in reality a massive, destructive timber project. The agency plans to remove 25 million board feet (MMBF) of old growth forest annually from 2019 through 2023, and 15 million board feet of old growth forest annually from 2024 through 2029. The agency will then evaluate further extraction levels based on whether “there will be harvestable old growth available … beyond the 15 year timeline of this project.” In other words, the Forest Service intends to liquidate federal timber on the island with no consideration for resource values other than future timber industry needs.
The POWLLA would also authorize the removal of 115 MMBF of recovering second growth forests from 2022 to 2031 and delay the forest succession process. This project would thus remove, at a minimum, 315 MMBF over a fifteen year period. Under the POWLLA, public lands on Prince of Wales Island would continue to managed as a subsidized timber colony that provides high value cedar to Viking Lumber’s de facto parent corporation in Washington state or to other Pacific Rim wood processors far outside the region.
The Forest Service initiated and funded a new federal advisory committee to develop the scope of the POWLLA, in violation of federal laws that seek to ensure public participation in federal land management processes and prevent self-interested industry stakeholders from having a disproportionate influence over agency decisions. At the Forest Service’s invitation, the “Prince of Wales Landscape Assessment Team” (POWLAT) formed in May 2016 to develop recommendations for logging and other activities on Prince of Wales Island. The Forest Service provided the POWLAT with federal funds under its Challenge-Cost-Share Agreement with the State of Alaska and additional taxpayer money and other tax-exempt funds through the Forest Service’s congressionally chartered foundation, the National Forest Foundation.
The Forest Service conducted an initial scoping process for the POWLLA Project that ended on December 30, 2016. The POWLAT did not comment during that scoping process. Alaska Rainforest Defenders and other conservation organizations raised serious concerns about further old-growth logging on the island, and Prince of Wales Island residents expressed similar concerns or emphasized recreation infrastructure developments in their comments. Two small timber operators requested improvements in the micro-sale program. There were no public comments requesting that the agency produce a massive, multi-year, destructive old-growth timber sale.
The Forest Service cast aside this public input from individuals and organizations that participated in the official NEPA process, and instead spent the following year developing the project’s plans through the POWLAT. The POWLAT met five times after the close of the December 2016 scoping period, for the purpose of providing to the Forest Service a recommended list of projects to occur pursuant to the POWLLA Project. After the POWLAT completed its list of recommendations – most importantly, for a large volume old-growth timber sale as part of POWLLA – the Forest Service issued another public notice for the project adopting the POWLAT’s recommendations, and opened a second scoping comment period on that basis. Notably, the Forest Service itself provided the highest proportion of POWLAT meeting participants – nearly a third at the January 2017 meeting (8/23), nearly half at the February 2017 meeting (11/23), and 15 of the 48 participants at the March 2017 meeting, including the Tongass Forest Supervisor.
In August, Alaska Rainforest Defenders submitted written comments on the Forest Service/POWLAT proposal (http://gsacc.net/Pages/documents/POWLLA_Comments-by-ARD-for-2ndscoping_7-Aug-2017.pdf). We objected to the formation and use of POWLAT as an unlawful federal advisory committee, we questioned how the Forest Service could administer such a large project given its failures on the much smaller Big Thorne and Tonka timber sales, and we pointed out the unacceptable risks to wildlife and fishery resources from cumulative impacts of previous logging on the island combined with upcoming logging by the Alaska Division of Forestry, Sealaska, and the Alaska Mental Health Trust.