Delegation Introduces Bill to Accelerate AMHT Land Exchange

Legislation Will Protect Viewsheds, Provide Timber, Generate Revenues for Mental Health

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, and U.S. Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, today introduced companion bills to accelerate an equal value land exchange between the Alaska Mental Health Trust (Trust) and the U.S. Forest Service. The legislation, which nearly passed last Congress, protects important community viewsheds, local trails, and other conservation values while expediting much-needed timber for local operators and generating new revenues for mental health services across the state.                                      

“Our bill protects lands that are worth protecting, provides critical timber to keep our sawmills running, and raises money for mental health programs in the midst of our state’s ongoing fiscal crisis,” Murkowski said. “This is a widely supported, common sense solution that will deliver real economic and environmental benefits for Southeast communities. It is one of my top legislative priorities, and my goal is to have it signed into law as quickly as possible.”

“This common sense solution to a specific issue that Southeast Alaska faces is a perfect example of the federal government working cooperatively with local stakeholders,” Sullivan said. “It’s a win for communities and for the federal government, and we should pass this bill immediately.”

“This legislation represents a unified effort by stakeholders to resolve a longstanding issue facing Southeast Alaska,” Young said. “Not only does this assist the Alaska Mental Health Trust fulfill its mandate and mission, it also helps protect the region’s timber industry – which is quickly running out of timber to mill. I encourage the swift consideration and passage of this bill.”

The Forest Service and the Trust have already agreed to the land exchange in principle. It is accounted for in the Forest Service’s Tongass Land Management Plan amendment, but would take years to execute without expediting legislation.

In the exchange, the Forest Service would receive approximately 17,341 acres of the Trust’s “non-federal” land. Much of the land comprises the scenic backdrops of Southeast communities such as Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Wrangell, and Juneau. Under the terms of the bill, the exchanged lands will be added to the Tongass National Forest and managed to protect the scenic backdrops of the adjacent communities.

In return, the Trust will receive approximately 20,580 acres of Forest Service “federal” land that it may use to generate funds to help run the State of Alaska’s mental health system. The Trust will allow timber harvesting on some of its acquired lands to fund its mental health programs and provide “bridge” timber needed to keep current Southeast sawmills operating during the transition to more second-growth harvesting.

Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and has been a leader on this issue since exchange talks began. She has prioritized the passage of the time-sensitive AMHT legislation and held a legislative hearing on the delegation’s stand-alone bill, S. 3006, last September. Late last year, Murkowski also sought to move the AMHT land exchange bill through the conference report for her broad, bipartisan energy bill, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016. 

Related Issues: Energy, Health