Final Tongass Plan Has Dire Implications for Southeast Economy

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, and U.S. Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, today issued the following statements after the U.S. Forest Service released its Final Record of Decision (ROD) to amend the Tongass Land Management Plan (plan).

“By finalizing a new plan on its way out of office, the Obama administration has blatantly disregarded some of the Tongass Advisory Committee’s most important recommendations and imperiled the economic future of Southeast Alaska,” Murkowski said. “Under this plan, the Tongass will no longer be managed to work for communities, but against them. The Forest Service’s insistence on locking in an accelerated transition to a young growth program without an inventory to show whether that is even possible is both harmful and misguided. And the timber industry is not the only one threatened by this plan – so, too, are energy development, mining, and others.” 

“This is the latest attempt in a death by a thousand cuts from this administration and extreme environmental activists who for years have been trying to kill off the last remaining timber industry in the Tongass,” Sullivan said. “Thankfully, the Obama Administration has only weeks left in office, after which we can turn this decision around and bring active management to our federal forests for the benefit for Alaska and America's economy.”

“The transition from old to new growth timber harvests in the Tongass is more than a blow to the Alaskan timber industry, it sets a terrible precedent for timber harvesting across the nation,” Young said. “The U.S. Forest Service has time and time again proven they have zero interests in properly managing our national forests; sentiments echoed by the State of Alaska and Southeast timber communities. Under this new management plan, Southeast will not have enough young growth timber to supply even one single sawmill. We’ve already seen great support for overturning this shortsighted action, including passage of an amendment in the House Natural Resources Committee that would forbid this transition from taking place until a full inventory of young growth timber can be taken in the Tongass. I remain committed to reforming the federal government’s broken system of forestry management and will continue to push for the enactment of my legislation, the State National Forest Management Act.”

The ROD rushes to lock in the Secretary’s proposed transition to young growth timber rather than following the recommendations of the Tongass Advisory Committee (TAC). Rather than completing an inventory to determine the appropriate timeframe for an economic program that will ensure the industry has adequate supply during the transition from old growth to young growth, the ROD adopts a ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach by beginning that transition without scientific support or knowledge of how it will turn out.

The plan continues to pick and choose among the TAC’s recommendations and does not guarantee that old growth timber sales will provide the volume of timber that the industry needs to survive. The Forest Service also fails to provide a clear understanding about where the wood for bridge timber will come from during the transition.

In addition, the plan does nothing to assure developers of mineral and energy projects that they will have access to their sites through Inventoried Roadless Areas – including so-called “roaded roadless” areas – to construct needed roads and power lines. Instead, it states that all decisions on such projects will be made on a case-by-case basis, which provides no reasonable assurance to investors who are deciding whether to risk their capital in this region.

The delegation will explore options to overturn the plan amendment. There is a strong record supporting a reversal of the ROD, as the Forest Service largely dismissed the 1,000 objections voiced to the plan during the new “objector” process, including substantive complaints from both the environmental and timber industries. This decision puts the cart before the horse by implementing a plan that is based solely on vague assumptions, not data, on whether it can work. 

The Tongass National Forest, covering 17 million acres, is the nation’s largest National Forest. Despite this, Alaska had – by far – the lowest level of timber development of any Forest Service region in the fourth quarter of Fiscal Year 2016, with just 14.1 million board feet cut and sold. That is just a fraction (0.5%) of the harvesting allowed in National Forests in other parts of the country during that timeframe.


Related Issues: Energy