CoastAlaska: Forest Service chief makes quiet visit to Tongass National Forest
USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen was hosted this past weekend in Southeast Alaska by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The trip gave Chief Christiansen a direct look at challenges and opportunities in the Tongass National Forest and an opportunity to hear from local stakeholders and tribal leaders about the need to build a strong, sustainable economy in the region.
“I thank Chief Christiansen and her team for joining me in Southeast to see and experience our nation’s largest national forest,” Murkowski said. “This was a great opportunity for Alaskans to engage in productive discussion with the Chief and other Forest Service officials, and for the Chief to see firsthand the everyday issues that face communities where the federal government manages the vast majority of the land. I welcome Chief Christiansen’s partnership and commitment to ensure the Tongass is a working forest for all who depend on it.”
During the visit, the Senator and the Chief toured a portion of Phase 1 of the Alaska Mental Health Trust (AMHT) land exchange, which transferred approximately 2,400 acres at Naukati on Prince of Wales (POW) Island to AMHT in exchange for 2,500 acres near Ketchikan. Murkowski authored the legislation providing for the land exchange, which was enacted into law in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017.
“This first phase is providing needed timber to the Viking Lumber Mill in Klawock, as well as revenue to the AMHT to provide mental health services for Alaskans. It is also protecting viewsheds in Ketchikan for visitors and locals alike,” Murkowski said. “There were some real setbacks in the process to get to this point and we cannot afford anymore. I think the Chief understands that after this visit and is committed to keeping Phase 2 of this exchange on track so it can be completed by the deadline in the legislation. Our mills and communities in Southeast Alaska are counting on it.”
The group toured old and young growth timber sites on Prince of Wales and Gravina Island, the Staney Creek Integrated Restoration Project, and the Western Gold cedar mill. The Chief and the Senator participated in a roundtable in Ketchikan with tribes from Metlakatla, Ketchikan Indian Community, Saxman, Klawock, and Kasaan. While in Wrangell they met with community members to discuss the Roadless issue and its impact on local communities, and later visited the Anan Wildlife Observatory – a growing tourist destination managed by the Forest Service.
The Tongass National Forest covers nearly all of southeast Alaska, spanning 16.7 million acres, but layers of federal regulations, including the 2001 Roadless Rule, have restricted access needed for timber, mining, tourism, recreation, and even renewable energy development. The result is a weaker regional economy, largely seasonal in nature, as local communities face fewer employment opportunities and higher energy costs.
Murkowski is chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
By: Jacob Resneck
Source: CoastAlaska - Juneau