Should Timber Industry Workers Help the Forest Service Pick Trees for Helicopter Logging in Alaska?

The Center for Western Priorities has a great newsfeed, but sometimes you have to look past their anti-Interior bias. For example, this morning they posted this..
“Logging gets priority in Trump’s Interior Department” where they blended the wildfire carbon kerfuffle Matthew linked to here with an Alaska logging project.

CWP says “The Interior Department’s attempts to help the timber industry don’t stop there. Newly released documents show the administration has partnered with the state of Alaska and the timber industry there, paying $300,000 annually for five years so that industry can pick which trees should be cut in an upcoming sale in the Tongass National Forest.”

Oh, well. They linked to this WaPo story. Given the need to fit the Dominant WaPo Narrative, I thought the writers did a good job of explaining both sides and picking people to ask questions who are directly involved. I also think the old-timer, passing on skills angle is interesting- perhaps Alaskans on TSW can enlighten us more about this?

1. Earthjustice attorney doesn’t like industry picking trees.
2. State forester tries to place the Trump factor in context of the longer term decision making process and points out that FS staff are there in the units also.
3. Sitka Conservation Society understands need for industry to be involved, and also wants the public more involved in decisions.

Earthjustice staff attorney Tom Waldo said in an interview that federal experts — not the logging industry itself — should identify the trees, since they are charged with balancing the forest’s commercial appeal with protecting its overall health and the species within it. Earthjustice, which is challenging the sale on the grounds that the Forest Service has failed to fully inform the public about it, obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act and provided them to the Energy 202.

“Here they’re vesting a really lot of power in the hands of someone with a very specific interest in the timber,” Waldo said. “The very best trees for logging are also the best trees for wildlife habitat.”

But Alaska State Forester John “Chris” Maisch said in an email that the logging site was selected during the Obama administration, underwent extensive environmental review and any final decisions are made by government officials. The Forest Service staff lacks the expertise to pick the trees that are both commercially appealing and can be safely felled and lifted via helicopter, he said.

Industry foresters are working with Forest Service staff “in the units and are not doing this work independently.” Maisch said.

“It’s a team effort with experienced foresters passing this skill set to the next generation,” he said, adding that protections are put in place if trees with bird nests “or other sensitive habitat is identified.”

Andrew Thoms, executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society, said it is understandable that the Forest Service wants to tap the expertise of those in the private sector. “The only people who know how to pick out these trees are the old timers.”

But he added that it is crucial to involve the public in these decisions, especially since the most massive cedar and spruce trees in the Tongass stand the best chance of propagating their species. “You want them to put out seeds, because there’s a reason they’re a thousand years old.”

16 thoughts on “Should Timber Industry Workers Help the Forest Service Pick Trees for Helicopter Logging in Alaska?”

  1. The best trees for logging are not necessarily the best trees for wildlife. Often, trees with defects, or broken tops, for example, make the best nesting sites, or can provide the most cover from weather. But might not produce quality wood products.

  2. “Should Timber Industry Workers Help the Forest Service Pick Trees for Helicopter Logging in Alaska?”

    Excellent question Sharon. I think you need to answer it honestly.

    Not only is this WaPo-puff-piece filled with factual errors and lies of omission even a high school level class in journalism could spot on cursory review, but more darkly, given the reporter’s familiarity by past coverage, one must conclude intentional journalistic malfeasance. This article constitutes over-the-top professional credulity where a reporter’s prerequisite is skeptical inquiry. It is absent cursory background research and dignifying “official” statements as fact made by key players literally being paid to lie.

    Perhaps even YOU could spot the other obvious errors?

    On second thought, maybe not. You and Jon actually think because Wiki said the Tongass was a 16.7 million acre forest that you didn’t need to even look at Google Earth or the Forest Plan containing several high resolution USFS maps with LUD and landscape designations.

    Alas, in your own words,
    “Based on the FS point of view, they are trying to switch around where they get their 28,800 OG and YG acres per year. Wikipedia says the Tongass is 16.7 million acres. Is that .2% of the total acres per year? How relevant is it then, to talk about the carbon on the entire forest as relevant to this decision?”

    “I think we would have to talk to people/read the EIS (horrors!) to figure this out. I’m going to dive into it further, hoping not to have to read the EIS.”

    You proceeded with your ASQ/LTSY carbon calculations as if commercially viable timber not to mention large tree oldgrowth actually grew everywhere. You never considered basic rainforest ecology nor the prior century of large tree old growth liquidation.

    Trees are dollar signs and little else?

    If all that needs to justify your cheerleading is the view money is trees, and trees are jobs, reconsider this: the latest accounting by Taxpayers for Common Sense: $30 million dollars in annual taxpayer subsidies on R10 (and jobs which include Native Corporate logging approved by Chris Maisch) but which represents 1% or less of the regional economy?

    Are you serious about this concern for money, jobs, sustainability, and the planet?

    The coup de grace of what tiny fraction remains of large tree oldgrowth is absent your blithely ignorant calculations. And both you and Jon think “LTSY” actually function as viable habitat instead of the short rotation utterly worthless export crop functions the same way a coastal temperate old growth rainforest functions!

    That’s a big, WOW!
    Your demonstrated incapacities for elementary levels of circumspection and objectivity severely undermine both your professional credibility and motives — both on naked display.

    Accomplishing this, while exploiting and normalizing public ignorance in the name of “Smokey” mouthing platitudes of peace and kindness and understanding fills me with cognitive dissonance Sharon.

    1) 2/3rds of those 16.7 million acres of the Tongass are glaciers mountain tops and snowfields and alpine and avalanche chutes, meadows, muskegs ,etc.etc.

    2) Chris Maisch gets paid to issue official coverup lies in the wake of the Washington Office Activity Review (WOAR), which I am in my second month of FOIAs being refused a key document I know exists. It is a long-promised independent forensic audit that the agency already knows it cannot afford to reveal even in a “corrected ” and redacted state — because the evidence already exists of what it is attempting to coverup.

    The corruption goes all the way to the top Sharon.

    3) the need to coverup is also urgent because: the “Alaska-Specific” Roadless Rule exemption is being fast-tracked (despite being overwhelmingly rejected by the commenting affected residents of Southeast Alaska, thousands of scientists and over 100,000 national owners of the Tongass) while being reviewed.

    4)The Executive Director of SCS, (just as the “conservation scientist” of Geos hawking young growth forest “fiber” sourced from the most biologically vulnerable watersheds of the southern and central Tongass) are both deeply financially conflicted being literally on the payroll to advocate economically infeasible, short rotation, colonial export plantations on the Tongass where none should exist. SCS is on the payrolls of the National Forest Foundation and the public relations and “stewardship/restoration” scams (exposed in the WOAR)in the most corrupt region of the NFS (R10) Sharon.

    5) regarding Maisch’s claim of “extensive environmental review,” Sharon, surely you are already aware an injunction has already been issued on POWLLA precisely on the matter of failure to comply with NEPA. Oral arguments occur in less than 2 weeks.

    The points I raise are so elementary, as to call into question actual motives here Sharon. I could go on and on, with more salient points, but I am still left with this disquieting sense of my participation in a forum of stunning denial, dissembling, and disinformation in the name of “Smokey.”

    The American public deserves far better. Again, please reconsider the ethics of your advocacy using “Smokey” and your climate science outlier claims to justify, and if necessary, apologize for, and dissemble on behalf of, an indisputably corrupt and captured agency.

    Meanwhile, Australia is afire, along with much of Amazon and the much of the rest of the planet, during an internationally recognized “climate emergency.” The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ several Nobel Peace Prize laureates have moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight.

    Isn’t this enough “good grief” for you to actually practice the requisite virtues of being ethical, honest and objective?

    • David, you have some interesting points that is new info to me. It would help me if when you have something to say, you didn’t question my motives and ethics and restate the fact that you believe that there is a climate emergency. It’s information I already know and can easily read past to get the interesting points, but others may not want to take the time and/or don’t like to reread your point of view about me.

      You could just say “2/3rds of those 16.7 million acres of the Tongass are glaciers mountain tops and snowfields and alpine and avalanche chutes, meadows, muskegs ,etc.etc.” based on the info presented ??? ”

      I am interested in your definition of corruption, though.
      “The Executive Director of SCS, (just as the “conservation scientist” of Geos hawking young growth forest “fiber” sourced from the most biologically vulnerable watersheds of the southern and central Tongass) are both deeply financially conflicted being literally on the payroll to advocate economically infeasible, short rotation, colonial export plantations on the Tongass where none should exist. SCS is on the payrolls of the National Forest Foundation and the public relations and “stewardship/restoration” scams (exposed in the WOAR)in the most corrupt region of the NFS (R10) Sharon. ”

      So if Earthjustice pays their attorneys, they do not become corrupt, but people who get hired by NFF are corrupt? There is no chance that they could possibly have been hired because they agree with the ideas?

      • I’m not particularly interested in your assessment of others’ assessments of what I write or how I write Sharon.

        I’m particularly interested in talking about the taxpayer owned forest I reside in and depend upon for my subsistence and livelihood; I am interested in the subversion of public process; principles of democratic process; federal civil and criminal law; public trust doctrine — and violations of public trust — as it pertains to the Tongass and our NFS. This matters to me, as does your penchant to normalize the documented and ongoing abuses.

        Financial conflicts of interest by persons claiming to operate in the public interest under the guise of “conservation” is an ethical matter. A federal agency bound by the CFR, FSH, FSM, NEPA, etc. and found by the agency itself to be systematically subverting them is also an ethical and legal matter.

        These constituute a corruption of the principles of the public trust.

        The fact you and they find nothing wrong with advocating irrefutably disastrous economic policies which simultaneously drain the public treasury while deconstructing temperate rainforest ecosystems is your prerogative. You get to sanction corruption by silence or apologetics or normalization as you wish.

        I feel obligated to point this out since I’ve been immersed in it all and must live with its consequences.

        I’m particularly interested in documenting the history of truth derived from leaked agency documents and evidence subsequent to multiple FOIAs, coverup, and your denials and sanction by silence be made evident.

        I know better than to think the immense ethical chasm separating you from the concerns of millions of people in the streets on the planet including myself, might somehow be magically bridged. I have yet to see a meaningful example of somehow the bridging of disparate worldviews occur here in this forum, and becoming increasingly uncomfortable as a participant.

        Connecting this seamless transition from irrefutable R10 systemic corruption, from the WOAR to the GNA’s outsourcing of agency functions to industry, should matter to every former or current federal employee who is ethical and who upholds her/his obligation to abide by the letter and intent of federal law and the public trust.

        This record of industry/agency collusion is also consistent with a public agency which has routinely violated its obligation to the public trust, whereby there is no longer a requisite “arm’s length” separation between agency and industry; and NEPA gets labeled the villain along with an historical record of former whistleblowers who were unlawfully retaliated against here and elsewhere on the NFS.

        The Washington Office Activity Review found gross violations in two recent large timber sales of failure to abiding by federal contract law; designated prescriptions of NEPA at the heart of helicopter logging central to the reason the WOAR investigations occurred; the WOAR exposed the false premises and promises of “stewardship and restoration” and DxPre; the absence of (destruction) of public records which were KEY incriminating evidence of criminal activity; and millions of dollars of losses described as “maladministration” (an extraordinary euphemism) as Findings of fact — by the agency’s own admission! Remember, this is the same agency that disbanded the Timber Theft Investigations Branch as they focused specifically on the Tongass. There is no independent investigative element of the USFS.

        There was a 4 month delay in publication and distribution of the WOAR because the actual findings were far worse than the WOAR admitted. The FOIA record already reveals this — as well as where the evidence of corruption leads — to the highest levels of the USFS. Furthermore, instead of filing CRIMINAL charges against the Contracting Officer which executed both contracts investigated in the WOAR resulting in the loss of $4 million (an extraordinarily understated amount), he was PROMOTED to line officer status as the new Petersburg District Ranger by the Tongass Forest Supervisor! This promotion of the perpetrator also provides District-level gatekeeping authority to FOIA requests.

        It comes as no surprise some administrators of The Smokey Wire have no comment to this ongoing coverup and doubling down under GNA false premises despite prima facie evidence of agency criminality.

        That there is a simultaneous diktat by the AK governor and Trump, (both charged with abuses of powers and threats of removals from office) to execute an Alaska-specific (elimination of the) Roadless Rule, despite overwhelming public opposition, reveals the Machiavellian state of nihilism and authoritarianism we now inhabit.

        You get to act as though these concerns are no big deal; I’m forced to reply because I know denialism when I see it and am personally victimized by its consequences.

    • From what I could try to figure out, it sounds like there are two sets of criteria a) which trees can go and still maintain ecological conditions (forester call) and which can occur in clumps that are economical and safe to get out with helicopter logging. Exactly how those two pieces of info are put together on the ground (or in this case in the air) is not clear. Maybe someone out there knows?

      • Really, the main difference between helicopter marking and conventional tractor-based logging is that helicopter companies prefer to have a minimum amount of volume per “turn” (one pickup of multiple logs). Other than that, the marking prescriptions should be strictly followed, regardless of yarding method. Private industry wants to fly trees with very little defect.


    Documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act detail close collaboration linking logging interests, Forest Service, and State of Alaska

    JANUARY 27, 2020

    Juneau, AK — Up to $1.3 million in U.S. Forest Service (USFS) dollars will wind up in the hands of the Alaska Forest Association — a timber industry group — for work that entails selecting old-growth trees to be logged on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, government records show.

    Documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act reveal a series of agreements linking the federal agency, the Alaska Forest Association, and the Alaska Division of Forestry in a public-private partnership arrangement that ultimately grants logging companies first pick in the largest timber sale undertaken in any national forest in more than 30 years. The timber sale, dubbed the Prince of Wales Landscape Level Analysis (POWLLA), will take place over an area spanning roughly 1.8 million acres. It is the subject of litigation brought by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, on behalf of clients who claim the Forest Service violated the law by keeping the public in the dark and failing to disclose where logging would take place. Oral argument in that case has been scheduled for Feb. 7 in Juneau.

    “This grant has it backwards,” said Earthjustice staff attorney Tom Waldo. “Logging companies should pay for the privilege of cutting trees on a national forest — taxpayers should not be writing checks to corporations to cut a public treasure like the Tongass. The Forest Service should end this grant immediately.”

    Documents obtained by Earthjustice show a pass-through of federal funding flowing to the timber industry association, via the state of Alaska. In August 2019, the Alaska Division of Forestry signed a “Cooperative Agreement” with the Alaska Forest Association as a side-deal under an agreement the Alaska Division of Forestry and U.S. Forest Service had made the month before.

    See three documents on Document Cloud, shared from the response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request:

    The pact between the state and federal agency, known as a “Challenge Cost Share Agreement,” pledges $300,000 annually from the Forest Service for up to five years. That funding supports “cadres,” billed as training programs, which bring loggers together with agency officials to go into the field and mark trees for removal by helicopter. In turn, the “Cooperative Agreement” between the state and the Alaska Forest Association puts industry in charge of managing this work and passes nearly all of the money — $260,000 annually, totaling $1.3 million — through to the industry association.

    “Even though many people rely on the area slated for logging on Prince of Wales for a variety of livelihoods and recreation, the Forest Service approved this mammoth timber sale without giving the public basic information about where it intends to log,” said Larry Edwards of Alaska Rainforest Defenders. “The secret agreements uncovered through public-records requests show the timber industry is not only privy to such information, but actively influencing what the Forest Service will let it chop down. That’s a conflict of interest and, worse, the Forest Service is paying industry to hold this special seat at the table.”

    Waldo added, “Allowing the timber industry to cherry-pick the most valuable trees will maximize profit at the expense of important wildlife habitat.”

    This is at least the second recent grant issued by the Forest Service that has landed in the hands of the timber industry to influence Tongass logging issues. In 2018, the Forest Service granted $2 million to the State of Alaska to remove existing protections for roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest. In 2019 the State passed $200,000 of that to the Alaska Forest Association. That use of federal funds spurred a Congressional inquiry. Last year, more than 444,000 people sent comments to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue opposing the proposed rollback of the Roadless Rule in the Tongass National Forest.

    • Thanks, Matthew, the more I dig into this, it sounds like this is not about a real project at all, which makes it even more confusing.

    • The USFS often does “Designation by Description”, where logging personnel gets to pick which trees to cut and which trees will stay. I’m not a fan of that but, it is no different than in this particular situation. Of course, USFS inspectors are supposed to monitor (and document) the work, to make sure it follows the Sale documents.

  4. That is a good question, Sharon, and I don’t know the answer. However, I don’t think the answer is necessarily the same everywhere, and the forest plan should provide enough guidance to answer that question at the project level. Here’s something from NFMA about “commercial appeal” that should be relevant:

    “(E) insure that timber will be harvested from National Forest System lands only where—
    (iv) the harvesting system to be used is not selected primarily because it will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output of timber;”

    Under the 2012 Planning Rule, a forest plan should indicate that trees that contribute the most to ecological diversity goals of the plan should be the highest priority for retention. I agree with Patrick’s point – to a point; to the extent wildlife value is correlated with tree “bigness,” that is going to conflict with board feet.

    (Notice how “commercial” is being used in this context in relation to our discussion of opposition to “commercial” timber sales. Maybe if that were not a factor at all, the Sierra Club could approve?)

    • Oh my gosh, I just found out that this is not really about what I thought it was.. I have to do more research.. will be back to this.
      Given that, traditionally helicopter logging has been thought to have less environmental impact than roaded systems.

      • People often forget about the numbers and sizes of the helicopter landings. In many areas, marginal landing sites are selected and excavated to meet safety and convenience issues but, the impacts of such disturbance are often ignored.

  5. I think having the timber purchaser and forest service working together on marking trees is a good idea. Helicopter logging is very efficient and very expensive. Someone has to pay for the costs. I don’t know the Tongass, but I am sure there are trees that can be harvested with minimal impact on the environment, which is true, I think, of all our public lands.


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