Tongass National Forest’s Big Thorne Project
Promotes Economic Stability
Maintaining and diversifying the current Southeast Alaska timber industry is critical. It is also essential during the transition from predominantly old-growth to young-growth harvest that the existing workforce with local knowledge and experience is retained. History has shown that losing the skills and infrastructure of an existing forest products industry makes it very difficult for a new industry to emerge.
The Forest developed an integrated, 5-year timber program, of which the Big Thorne Project is a major component. This program of work will allow the Southeast Alaska timber industry to adjust, adapt, and develop markets for new wood products. To do this and to keep ahead of yearly demand, having at least three years of wood under contract for each mill is the Forest’s goal.
“At this time, the majority of young-growth trees on the Tongass National Forest are too small or young to harvest. These trees will begin to be ready in 10-15 years and can start to replace old-growth harvest in about 20 years,” said Cole. “The Big Thorne Project will provide stability to local mills now by supplying timber for up to ten years, while allowing the Forest to increase investments in young-growth planning.”
The Big Thorne Project is significantly larger than projects the Tongass National Forest has put forward in recent years. The Forest is proposing this large timber sale to provide a stable timber supply, create efficiencies in Forest Service timber sale preparation, and focus old-growth harvest in fewer areas of the Forest versus scattering them throughout.
The 5-year program of work will also further the goals of the USDA Investment Strategy, which include the development of sustainable, diversified economies throughout Southeast Alaska. Components of the transition include renewable energy, forest restoration and young growth management, fisheries and mariculture, tourism and recreation, and subsistence.
The Investment Strategy also emphasizes a stewardship approach to support and enhance natural resource-based employment opportunities and rural development in Southeast Alaska. Providing enough timber harvest and stewardship projects for several years could allow timber operators to obtain necessary financial backing to begin retooling for young-growth timber volume while offering stable employment to Southeast Alaska communities throughout the transition.
The Forest Service is considering the use of stewardship contracting authority to implement any future sales from the Big Thorne Project. Stewardship contracting helps achieve land management goals while meeting local and rural community needs, including contributing to the sustainability of rural communities and providing a continuing source of local income and employment. It focuses on the “end result” ecosystem benefits and outcomes, rather than on what is removed from the land.
An additional benefit from the use of the stewardship contracting authority is that receipts paid for the harvested timber can be reinvested in local projects such as stream restoration, wildlife habitat improvement, pre-commercial thinning of young-growth stands, and other similar projects. The retention of the receipts and the reinvestment of those funds add greatly to job creation beyond those of the timber project itself.