Ketchikan Daily News: Murkowski Talking Timber

The current federal administration is proving difficult to work with on issues involving timber harvest and supply in the Tongass National Forest, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

"We're dealing with an administration that I don't think fully understands and appreciates the Tongass," Murkowski said Friday in Ketchikan. "I think they view this as something that should not be touched. I don't think that they understand how management has worked or how it can work."

While the administration has been talking about transitioning timber harvesting away from old-growth into young-growth timber, it's possible that none of the current timber operators could survive the transition, according to Murkowski.

"My fear has always been that they're going to try to wait out those who have tried to hang on for so many years and try to outlast them," she said.

Murkowski was speaking at a press conference with some of the board members of the Ketchikan-based Alaska Forest Association, a long-standing timber industry group that announced Friday its endorsement of Murkowski in the Aug. 24 GOP primary election race against Joe Miller of Fairbanks.

AFA Executive Director Owen Graham said Murkowksi has been consistent in opposing "hostile environmental proposals that threaten to shut down" the timber industry in Southeast Alaska.

The association believes that Murkowski's seniority and position as the senior Republican on the U.S Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be important in helping the industry survive.

"The next two to four years are critical to keeping Alaska's timber industry alive," Graham said in a prepared statement.

He told Murkowski that AFA's primary issue is restoring timber supply.

"Our first priority in doing that is to get Sealaska (land) legislation passed this year so we can sustain the jobs that Sealaska's operation support," Graham said.

Murkowski is sponsor of the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Act, which would resolve Sealaska Corp.'s land entitlements under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act by transferring ownership of a variety of federal lands across Southeast Alaska to Sealaska.

The proposed legislation has met with strong opposition, however, prompting Murkowski to propose a variety of revisions to the bill in an attempt to address some of the concerns.

Murkowski on Friday said the Sealaska bill was one of the many tough issues ahead.

She didn't comment further about the Sealaska legislation specifically, addressing instead the general issue of trying to work with the administration to improve timber supply from the Tongass to provide for a sustainable timber industry.

She said she's sent a detailed letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack seeking answers regarding Tongass issues.

"I'm still waiting for that response back from him, and have sent yet (another) follow-up saying, 'We need these answers,'" Murkowski said. "I think we have recognized and appreciated that this is going to be a very difficult administration to deal with, but we have got to keep on it and we have got to continue to press on these issues."

Graham said it takes the forest about 100 years to grow into maturity.

The trees grow slowly for the first 25-30 years, then enter a period of rapid growth that lasts for 75-80 years, according to Graham.

He said the region's oldest young-growth timber stands are about 50 years of age.

"Right now, most of our timber is just starting into the fast growth," Graham said. "This is the worst time to cut it."

It would be better to wait until the trees were of a larger circumference, according to Graham. Then, he said, "they'll be worth some money and be profitable and be good for everybody.

"To cut them right now would be foolishness, and that's what the administration is proposing," Graham continued. "They don't want to seem to want to listen to the reality that these trees aren't ready to be cut."

Murkowski said everyone at the press conference recognized "first hand that it's very tenuous here in the Tongass right now."

The administration's approach to the timber industry in Southeast Alaska is "extraordinarily frustrating," Murkowski said,

"One of the things that we've got going on in our favor here is we've got some pretty strong, pretty determined individuals - families who have made a commitment to the local economy, made a commitment to providing jobs," Murkowski said. "And they're going to hang tough, and we want to hang tough with them."

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Source: By Scott Bowlen. Originally published August 08, 2010