Tongass Timber

The Sawtooth Rainforest, a temperate rainforest that forms part of the Tongass National Forest, just outside Skagway, Alaska. IMG: Kevin Harber via Flickr CC.

The infamous Tongass timber war that was dormant for many years may be reigniting again soon in southeast Alaska. The massive, multi-year Big Thorne project proposed by the U.S. Forest Service would harvest tens of millions of board feet of timber from irreplaceable old growth. This initiative, if carried out fully, has the potential to endanger Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, and environmentalists aren’t having it.

Environmental groups have responded with a lawsuit stating that the Big Thorne project would endanger deer habitats throughout the area, which would hurt both local hunters and the Alexander Archipelago wolves that rely on the deer to survive. Threatened animal habitats would be a result of the depleted Timber tree population, which in and of itself is a concern to environmental groups.

A Southeast Alaska Conservation Council spokesman said the group was disappointed to see a sale the size of the Big Thorne actually come to fruition. “We’ve actually been having some pretty constructive conversations with the Forest Service for the past few years about what the Tongass transition is going to look like,” said Daven Hafey.

The Big Thorne project area would cover over 200,000 acres on the Prince of Wales Island and include more than 6,000 acres of old-growth forest and more than 2,000 acres of second-growth. “We support increasing the number of jobs per log cut on the Tongass, rather than shipping half the logs cut on the Tongass overseas,” Hafey said. “The Big Thorne will export long-term jobs for short-term profits, and it will do so at an unsustainable rate and that’s not progress,” said Hafey.

Earthjustice is representing Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, and Sierra Club in both suits, and the Natural Resources Defense Council in the land management plan suit. Hopefully, local and national environmental groups will find the resources to fight back against the Big Thorne project, as they very well could be the last line of defense for the Tongass National Forest.