- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service has awarded a contract for a timber sale in southeast Alaska to the region’s last mid-size mill, Viking Lumber Co.

Lawsuits were filed over the Big Thorne sale before the contract was awarded, and Tongass National Forest spokesman Kent Cummins said no ground work would be done by Viking until the courts decide the case - likely next spring.

Cummins told the Juneau Empire (http://bit.ly/1E4Z5Ci) in a story Thursday that he couldn’t comment on the size of the contract or on how many companies had bid until the contract was finalized.

Viking Lumber, in Klawock, initially won the sale contract about a year ago. But the sale was tabled after concerns were raised about the impact it would have on wolf and deer populations on Prince of Wales Island.

The Forest Service reconsidered the sale before upholding it in August.

The conservation groups that have sued have raised concerns about the wolf and deer populations, old-growth logging and the health of the region’s small mills if Viking won the bid.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, for example, argued that the Forest Service should transition to smaller sales for small mills whose products stay in southeast Alaska communities.

Cummins said the contract with Viking is different from a standard timber sale in that Viking will be contractually obligated to complete trail renovations, stream restoration projects and young growth thinning while logging.

“It’s a lot better in terms of work that stays in the community and benefits the local economy,” he said.

Greenpeace, which also has sued over the sale, is working on proposed stipulations for what can or can’t happen before a judge weighs in, given the contract has been awarded, said Larry Edwards, the organization’s Alaska forest campaigner.

Jim Gould, the mayor of Thorne Bay, a town on Prince of Wales Island, said delays in the sale have been frustrating for the community where the unemployment rate is slightly higher than the state average.

“By no means is it the timber industry of the past - there’s no more 100 million feet a year being harvested off the island,” he said. That the Thorne Bay project “can’t be tolerated on a 17 million acre forest… it’s amazing to me.”

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

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