The US Forest Service plans to roll back protections on the most pristine parts of the national forest and chop down another quarter million acres of the island’s old growth forest — generally, trees more than 150 years old. Old-growth timber is often favored over younger timber because of its more attractive appearance, but cutting it down threatens the island’s wildlife and the subsistence lifestyles that depend on it.
Prince of Wales island is a little larger than Delaware but has less than 1 percent of that state’s population. Although old growth forests throughout Tongass — the nation’s largest national forest that covers most of the southeastern panhandle of Alaska — have been battered over the years by clear-cutting, no place has been hit as hard as this island, most of which lies within the national forest.
Old-growth logging on Prince of Wales began in the 1950s with the opening of pulp mills in the cities of Sitka and Ketchikan on the nearby islands Revillagigedo and Baranof. The northern half of the island has had the highest rate of logging anywhere in Southeast Alaska, according to a 2016 state report. Logging slowed down dramatically in the 1990s when the mills closed, despite that, by 2000, loggers had nearly eliminated the area’s most commercially valuable forests, coinciding with a 75 percent decline in the island’s wolf population.