“Big Thorne” logging threatens the Alexander Archipelago wolf. Greenpeace defends.

by Larry Edwards

September 4, 2013

Big Thorne Project area This summer the US Forest Service approved the largest logging project in two decades on the Tongass National Forest, in Alaska's coastal rainforest. Greenpeace, along with four other environmental organizations, has appealed the decision to the next-highest level of the US Forest Service, in August. We expect the appeal decision soon, and are preparing to go to court if the agency upholds its own project, as expected. The project -- called Big Thorne -- is predatory. Its over 6,000 acres of logging in old-growth spruce-cedar-hemlock rainforest and its 82 miles of logging road construction and reconstruction threaten the viability of Alexander Archipelago wolves (Canis lupus ligoni) on Prince of Wales Island. Our appeal includes a declaration from a wolf researcher who has studied the island's wolves and predator-prey dynamics for 22 years. Dr. David Person is recently retired from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, and this is the first time his knowledge is publicly available, free of suppression under the State of Alaska's political policy of maximizing logging. Prince of Wales Island, the third largest in the U.S. (behind Hawaii and Kodiak Islands), has for 60 years been Southeast Alaska's most heavily targeted area for logging, because its climate promotes the best forest in the region. Dr. Person has observed a "precipitous decline" in the number of wolves on the island in recent years. Causes include a high density of logging roads (3,000 miles on the island) and loss of winter habiat for deer -- the wolves primary prey. In his declaration he said,
Based on the impacts to wolf and deer habitat and populations ..., Prince of Wales Island, including the Big Thorne project area, is at a tipping point with regard to a viable predator-prey dynamic between wolves and deer. The wolf populations on Prince Wales have been declining precipitously, and wolves are already facing the possibility of extinction on Prince of Wales Island. Big Thorne logging, if it goes forward, will remove the most important remaining deer winter habitat in many of the affected watersheds, which will further reduce the abundance of deer in the project area (especially following severe winters), perhaps for decades to come. As a result, the predator-prey relationship between wolves and deer on Prince of Wales is likely to collapse. ... As I described above, it is not enough to maintain a sufficient deer population for wolves because hunters rely on those deer as well, and they can be expected to kill wolves legally or illegally to protect that resource. The situation is further compounded by the extensive road network already in existence, as well as the new roads into previously remote areas approved under the Big Thorne decision. This road system greatly facilitates human access and eliminates refuge for wolves.
Our administrative appeal also addresses impacts of Big Thorne's roading and logging to streams and fish (particularly salmon) and to other wildlife species including bear, goshawks and flying squirrels. We also show that the economic justifications for the project fail under scrutiny. Accompanying the appeal are two other declarations by experts on the aquatic and economic issues. Our appeal requests that the decision ... be reversed and that the project be cancelled in its entirety because of multiple failures to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), National Forest Management Act (NFMA), Clean Water Act (CWA), Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), Tongass Timber Reform Act (TTRA), Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and various regulations and policies implementing these statutes. Stay tuned. (See the follow-up story.) Our co-appellants are: Cascadia Wildlands, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Center for Biological Diversity and Tongass Conservation Society. [ Note: The links in this article allow you to read annotated versions of documents, stored on DocumentCloud. The original, unannoted versions can be downloaded from there as well, from a link at the bottom of the right-hand panel there. ] Big Thorn
Larry Edwards

By Larry Edwards

Larry is a former forest campaigner based in Greenpeace's Alaska field office in Sitka. He has been featured in Alaska Public Radio, The Examiner, AP, and Sit News.

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