Forest service audit of troubled Alaska timber sale program nears completion

Logs are loaded on a truck on Kupreanof Island in 2013. (Photo by Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

The U.S. Forest Service’s top official in Alaska told an audience in Petersburg this month that his agency is close to finalizing an audit of the timber sale program.

Regional forester Dave Schmid gave that information during the roadless meeting in Petersburg this month.

“While I don’t control the timeline of the audit, there has been an audit that has been conducted,” Schmid said. “It had not been finalized when I had been briefed about a month or so ago. It is close to being finalized.”

Schmid speculated the audit could be finished within the next two to four weeks. The audit and questions about it spring from multiple internal reviews the agency completed on the Big Thorne timber sale on Prince of Wales Island and the Tonka sale on Kupreanof Island near Petersburg.

The watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility published those agency reviews in 2017 detailing problems with oversight and administration of the logging, leading to millions of dollars lost in the value of the timber.

The Petersburg borough government on November 6, 2018 and April 16, 2019 sent letters to U.S. Forest Service chief Vicki Christiansen asking for more information about that lost revenue that was meant to pay for habitat restoration and other work on the forest. Christiansen responded with a letter to the borough in May, mentioning the formal audit. The borough hasn’t heard any follow up since.

Local resident Becky Knight questioned the regional forester about it during the informational meeting.

“There was $4 million worth of losses that were enumerated,” Knight said. “I believe that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. And I think it’s a cover-up of monumental proportions.”

KFSK in September submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the timber audit but has yet to hear back on that request other than that the agency has received it.

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Joe Viechnicki is a reporter at KFSK in Petersburg.