Appeal of Big Thorne Sale?

Another on the Big Thorne Timber Sale by E&E News…

This seems to me a “clearcut” case of the Forest Service following the law, based on what the judge says. I agree with Senator Murkowski that protracted litigation and appeals are a suboptimal approach to forest policy. At the end of the day, many times, the FS just does more work (as per Colt Summit) and unsurprisingly, no ecosystems have unraveled yet.

Environmental groups are “very likely” to appeal a judge’s decision last Friday to uphold a Forest Service plan to allow more than 6,000 acres of old-growth logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, according to the groups’ attorney.

Tom Waldo of Earthjustice said plaintiffs are still evaluating whether to seek an emergency halt to the Big Thorne timber sale pending appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Earthjustice represented the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council in two lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska that were consolidated into one.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline ruled the Forest Service broke no laws in crafting its 2008 Tongass land-use plan and approving Big Thorne, which allows the harvest of about 150 million board feet of trees, most of them old growth, while also mandating significant restoration and recreation improvements (E&ENews PM, March 23).

The Forest Service and a local mill have previously said they will not start ground-disturbing activities until April 1 at the earliest.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has long supported the Big Thorne sale and cheered Beistline’s decision. But yesterday at an ENR hearing to discuss forestry reform, she warned that “the lawsuit isn’t necessarily over.”

She said she’s fearful that even if the Forest Service prevails on appeal, it could delay logging long enough to put southeast Alaska’s only remaining medium-sized timber mill out of business.

“Some would argue that that’s been the plan here all along,” she said. “Not to just cut it off, but to delay enough that those in the industry just give up. That’s not what forest policy should look like.”

13 thoughts on “Appeal of Big Thorne Sale?”

  1. Excuse me – ecosystems have not unraveled yet? Oh yes – I forgot for a minute that clearcutting and extreme logging produce more CO2 emissions than other forms of logging and that species are in peril and that our food and water is polluted and fisheries in peril. I think that there is evidence that this statement is not correct. Really ! is there a reason logging can’t be done responsibly? – Big industrial timber industry companies just want the highest margin at the expense of our public trust resources. If they weren’t just old fashion greedy no one would be fighting! The timber industry would be most happy with no regulations and full environmental clearcutting. The public is getting sick of corporate greed.

    • “Clearcutting and extreme logging produce more CO2 emissions than other forms of logging” … That has me baffled and for the life of me I have no idea what “extreme logging” is. I’d think that clearcutting is a very efficient means of forest regeneration and the entries into the forest would be far fewer, less frequent, etc. than any other method and, therefore, produce far less CO2.

      As a critically overlooked/conveniently ignored point of clarification. Clearcutting is NOT a harvest method; rather, it, like seed-tree, shelterwood, coppice, etc., is a regeneration method. It is a regeneration method that gets full sunlight to the forest floor to meet the needs of those plants requiring full sunlight for successful regeneration. [Skidders, yarders, chainsaws, feller-bunchers, etc. are harvest methods.] Clearcutting, therefore, is based primarily on meeting the biological requirements of many plant species. While other regeneration methods could be used at less efficiency, with more entries and more frequent disturbance to the forest, and at greater cost, the biological needs of many plant species cannot be overlooked if they are to be successfully regenerated.

      If people do not want “big industrial timber industry companies” or, for that matter, small companies, small family landowners, etc., there is only one thing people have to do – quit buying and using wood. That means giving up toothpaste and toothbrushes, grated Parmesan cheese, cell phones, ice cream, medicines, and 5-6000 other common wood-based consumer products. Of course that also means those people in the forestry community would have no reason to plant a tree much less put out fires, provide habitat, recreation, water, etc. In fact, as a matter of economics, they’d be much better off converting their lands into shopping malls and sub-divisions; to avoid bankruptcy, they might even be forced to convert their lands into other uses.

      As for logging responsibly, check out Oregon’s Forest Practices Act. This was the first of its kind that was enacted at the urging of the forest industry by the state legislature in 1971. [There were some in other states who felt Oregon had become a Communist state!] It has been updated a number of times over the years as new information became available. Washington and California followed suit some years later with their own versions of forest practices rules.

      • Dick, your “point of clarification” (regarding Susan’s post) is pretty much the opposite of clarification. To claim that “Clearcutting is NOT a harvest method” is just plain silly. It was when I was in forestry school 40 years ago, so I had to go back and check whether the basic silvicultural concept had changed since then… Clearcutting is also a tool for regeneration, nobody argues with that. But, (since you referenced Oregon forest practices), consider the Oregon Forest Research Institute’s acknowledgment that “clearcutting is a controversial method of tree harvesting…” ( How about SAF’s dictionary definition of “clearcut” as “a regeneration or harvest method” ( Or maybe the USFS’ inclusion of clearcut in its compilation showing “The information presents the acres harvested by Forest Service region and different harvest methods during this period.” (

        “Extreme logging” shouldn’t be all that baffling. Not too hard to imagine practices that would qualify: clearcuts on steep slopes, large acreage clearcuts with no advance regen and little natural regeneration potential, clearcut with soil ripping, clearcuts on wet or otherwise unstable soils, etc. etc. Rather than speculating about effects of clearcuts on potential GHG emissions, it’s not that hard to find relevant scientific studies, e.g.,;

        Whether the Oregon Forest Practices Act truly is an example of “logging responsibility” is of course open to discussion. However, it’s worth referring to Matthew Koehler’s recent post ( in which he quoted a news report (one of many) that starts out:

        “Federal regulators ruled Friday that Oregon logging rules do not sufficiently protect fish and water from pollution caused by clear-­cutting too close to streams, runoff from old logging roads, landslides and sites sprayed with pesticides….The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service and the federal Environmental Protection Agency filed their decision in a long-running negotiation with Oregon over meeting the standards of the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Program, a provision of the National Coastal Zone Management Program…. Oregon is the first state cited for failing to meet the pollution standards since the program started in 1990.

        • All too often harvest methods and regeneration methods are used interchangeably – even among foresters. That is unfortunate because they are NOT the same thing and I stand by what I said. The distinction between the two terms is subtle but it is real nonetheless.

          Harvesting can be done in many different ways; those are the methods (machines, tools, and techniques) of harvesting the trees and getting them to the road and to the mill.

          Likewise, forest regeneration can also take place in many different ways. Clearcutting, seed tree, shelterwood, coppice, etc. are very different means of accomplishing successful regeneration Clearcutting facilitates the regeneration of those species that require full sunlight while other species will successfully regenerate with these other methods. However, many (most?) of the PNW conifers (especially coastal conifers) need full sunlight and clearcutting works well. [Though skeptical about its likelihood of success, the last time I tried a shelterwood (in Oregon’s Coast Range), we replanted just to make sure it was reforested; it was mostly a failure.]

          Years ago, clearcutting was a term to describe harvesting when there was no intention of reforestation; nature was simply left to take its course. The intent was to simply harvest the trees as quickly and economically as possible. I suspect that the popular notion of clearcutting as a harvest method is a holdover from decades ago.

          Clearcutting as a regeneration method and as a harvest system are, unfortunately, used interchangeably – even among foresters! Is it any wonder, then, that the general public doesn’t know the difference?

          [Over my long career, I’ve taken a lot of people to the woods. As I explain the difference between harvest methods and regeneration methods, I see lots of little light bulbs coming on. Some say they still don’t like clearcutting but they begin to see the biology (i.e., the regeneration needs of many plant species) behind the practice. We can change our harvest methods (and the economics) but we can’t change the biology!]

          Your examples of “extreme logging” sound like cases where the rules and regulations as prescribed by the Forest Practices Act were not followed. If that is the case, then the Dept. of Forestry is falling down on the job!

    • Susan, I hope you don’t really believe that logging a couple of thousand acres, with current legal protections in place, has a lot to do with “our” food and water being polluted and “our” fisheries being imperiled.

      I don’t think the Big Thorne area produces a lot of food to export to the lower 48. And probably effluent from all the cruise ships might have a bigger impact on water quality than this timber sale.

      You think that the timber sale involves logging that is not done “responsibly” but a person could argue that if the judge says it’s following the law, that is pretty responsible. I don’t think it’s greed to want to keep people employed in rural areas and to produce something that people use.

      People may be getting sick of corporate greed but why would you pick as a target, not oil companies or beer companies or ski areas, but the timber folks in Alaska? I guess because you have legal leverage…

      Just as an example, my state in a dry landscape with much energy currently from coal, decided to legalize growing and using marijuana. I suppose the environmental impacts of that decision on our water and energy resources is not good, and we should therefore import our marijuana instead from other countries like we do timber. And there are corporations making money! Some would say (including doctors I know) at the expense of the health of Coloradans. No one ever accused a wood cabinet of harming the health of the owner. Just sayin’ I was expecting the environmental groups concerned about climate change and water usage to fight this, but nothing so far has happened….

      • Sharon, seriously…

        “Susan, I hope you don’t really believe that logging a couple of thousand acres, with current legal protections in place, has a lot to do with “our” food and water being polluted and “our” fisheries being imperiled.” -Susan never said this, you’re setting up a straw man. She was responding to your very general and almost certainly incorrect assertion that “unsurprisingly, no ecosystems have unraveled yet.”

        “I don’t think the Big Thorne area produces a lot of food to export to the lower 48.” -An unnecessarily snarky comment, especially considering it’s based on your own misreading of Susan’s post.

        “You think that the timber sale involves logging that is not done “responsibly” but a person could argue that if the judge says it’s following the law, that is pretty responsible.” -One could argue that, I suppose, but it would be extremely naïve. Myriad examples to the contrary, from our nation’s history of judicially legitimized racial discrimination, to Guantanamo Bay detention, to civil forfeiture laws… the list goes on and on. Recommend a little reading in critical legal theory, on the synergistic relationship between law and power, maybe start here…

        • What she said was “Oh yes – I forgot for a minute that clearcutting and extreme logging produce more CO2 emissions than other forms of logging and that species are in peril and that our food and water is polluted and fisheries in peril.”

          If that was, in fact, a response to my statement that ecosystems have not unraveled, then I was thrown off by her first clause about clearcutting… that seemed to be about the timber sale, and not about the broader world. Because of all the contributors to climate change, the difference between clearcutting and shelterwoods, is pretty small.

          Of course, “unraveled” is not a scientific word…so it’s hard to tell.

          If a fish species declines, does that mean that an “ecosystem unravels”.. I would say that those are two different things. Especially since species can substitute for one another and move into niches formerly occupied by other species.

          I don’t see that I was misreading it.. if she had meant “I feel that the decline in salmon populations in California means that those ecosystems unraveled” then she could have said that. That’s how arguments generally go.. if you make a claim that something is true, you provide evidence to substantiate that assertion.

          Not to be anti-academic (academia is, as we know, a bastion of white male privilege and the part of the power structure) but my knowledge of the court system (bastion of white male privilege and the power structure) is based on experience. Since court systems are unjust (and I would argue, based on experience, not a good way to debate forest practices), why are the courts the preferred policy tool for some environmental groups?

          A final note: I don’t even know what forest practices the plaintiffs don’t like.. it almost seems that Alaska is symbolic to some of these national groups. Otherwise, they could issue a statement that says “we acknowledge the importance of mills and wood as a provider of jobs and products in Alaska that people, including us, use. We think you could get X BBF instead by doing y forest practices on these acres instead. We will have an open debate about the forest practices we prefer on April 17 online and welcome input from practitioners, local and indigenous knowledge and scientific information.. We are also hosting a field trip where people can see similar forest practices 10 years later.” I think if you are going to say that practices are bad, you should be required to say why you think so and have an open forum where evidence can be presented. That’s one of the reasons courts don’t work, IMHO.

  2. Years ago, the first timber harvesting in SE Alaska was done from the water by means of cable systems mounted on barges stationed at the water’s edge. These forests readily regenerated and are now second-growth timber adjacent to the water.

    The Tongass is supposed to switch from harvesting old-growth timber to managing the second-growth. Except, there is a Catch-22 here: there are those who feel those second-growth forests near the water’s edge are essential habitat and want those lands put off limits.

    That puts the Forest Service into a bit of a pickle: some people don’t want the old-growth harvested and want the second-growth the Forest Service is supposed to manage (with the eventual intent of harvesting) off limits, too.

    Meanwhile, people in Ketchikan and other communities are increasingly dependent on the cruise ships that pass through during the summer. Maybe we should just declare the Tongass a national park and, similar to other national parks, move everyone off the land, keep a few motels in token communities (along with the usual souvenir shops and cafes), and send all those that remain to the lower 48. Surely there are good summer jobs in tourism in the lower 48’s national forests.

  3. “This seems to me a “clearcut” case of the Forest Service following the law, based on what the judge says.”

    I won’t argue about the project decision (though “what the judge says” sometimes involves selective disclosure of the facts). The court’s treatment of the forest plan viability issue seems flawed to me, though. It seems to say the plan doesn’t have to address the NFMA viability requirement, but instead the Forest Service can figure that out project-by-project. I don’t think that would be “following the law;” it’s counter to the whole NFMA idea of a forest plan providing diversity. (It’s also contrary to the agency’s policy, codified in the new planning rule, that the viability requirement does not apply to projects.)

  4. Clearcutting is viable as a method of harvest and regen.
    My evil logger landlord is looking at a stand by West Glacier on private ground that is a wreck. The owner is resigned USFS forester, right? You know, couldn’t tolerate the inflicted stupidities?
    It’s mid-40s-class lodgepole mixed in with minor amounts of birch, pss fir, doug, spruce and a tiny bit of larch, relict from what looks like was a much larchier stand in the past.
    It’s a mess. Nothing has released. Just short of doghair, terrible growth, insane competition, a bomb waiting to blow.
    So the prescription is to nuke all the LP post and pole wood, taking everything to the landing, try to leave anything else with a chance to grow, a chance. The “other” species might release, now is pretty much the time to try it. Hopefully, everyone will make enough munny to go buy some starters, grab a hoedad and get something worthwhile started in the stand, with good start and spacing.
    By the time the owners and loggers are all dead, this forest will be looking like something — at least that’s what we talked about when we walked it.
    This is the kind of work that has the haters freaking about the short-term visual impact, but the folks owning these parcels are annoyed with the present stands and justifiably fearful of the possible outcome if “nature” takes its course.
    But yeah, in this case, a 95 percent clearcut is this particular parcel’s best chance for a future — and there is a lot of forest where the same applies.


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