This old growth timber didn’t sell last time. Can it attract a buyer now?

A fire left its mark on this Tongass National Forest tree trunk, as seen in 2008.

The Tongass National Forest. (Creative Commons photo by Xa’at)

A controversial old growth timber sale in the Tongass National Forest has undergone a few changes before coming back on the market. The U.S. Forest Service removed some of the more sensitive watershed areas included in the original offer, which received zero bids back in 2016.

Owen Graham, with the Alaska Forest Association, says he chuckled when he saw the forest service was being sued by conservation groups over this latest version of the Kuiu Island timber sale.

“If somebody did buy it, I hope they could make it work,” Graham said. “But I’d be surprised. It looks like a loser to me.”

A “loser” — in Graham’s words — that he thinks wouldn’t pencil out for a buyer in the domestic or export market.

Kuiu is extremely remote. Plus, the sale is now almost half the size of what the forest service originally planned.

Those factors, Graham says, make it difficult to turn a profit. He thinks the forest service is trying to supply the last few remaining timber jobs.

But increased regulation has limited what areas can be logged, and he says the Kuiu sale reflects that.

“Now, the industry is in jeopardy,” Graham said. “And so, they’re scrambling around to find anything they can to keep the industry alive.”

Buck Lindekugel with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council agrees with Graham on one thing: this latest attempt by the forest service looks like a scramble.

Lindekugel is a grassroots attorney, and his group is suing the forest service over the sale on Kuiu island. He hopes it discourages a buyer.

“Any purchaser is going to know that we filed this lawsuit before they decide whether they’re going to bid on it,” Lindekugel said.

The forest service started preparing the Kuiu Island timber sale eleven years ago, and it’s original plans probably wouldn’t fly today. The agency has since moved away from selling trees in valuable watersheds next to salmon streams. It dropped some of those areas in the sale this time around.

But Lindekugel says it didn’t update its environmental analysis.

“The previous environmental analysis they did for this over eleven years ago is stale,” Lindekugel said. “[It] doesn’t reflect current conditions and therefore, could not possibly evaluate the effects of this sale in today’s world.”

Lindekugel says the north end of Kuiu island has become a popular spot to take in the scenery for small cruise ships.

Tourism, he thinks, is a better investment for the future of the Tongass.

The forest service is accepting bids on the Kuiu Island timber sale until June 5.

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