Murkowski: Alaskans Have “Groundhog Day” Syndrome With U.S. Forest Service Frustrations

USFS Director Tells Senator He Regrets Secure Rural Schools Fund Takeback

WASHINGTON, DC — Senator Lisa Murkowski today continued to criticize the agenda and bookkeeping of the United States Forest Service (USFS) on behalf of Alaskans in a hearing of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, where she serves as the top (“ranking”) Republican in influencing the Department of Interior’s funding priorities and policies.

In a exchange with the Director of the USFS, Murkowski pointed out the wrongheadedness of attempting to seize money back from Southeast Alaska timber communities under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act because of shoddy planning for sequestration – saying Alaskans feel stuck in the movie “Groundhog Day” because of the long line of excuses from the USFS in Alaska.   She also spoke of the impacts on the ground in places like Ketchikan from the cut in landing permits allotted by the USFS for float planes to tour Alaska lakes and forests.

(Murkowski lays out Alaskans’ key concerns in opening statement – CLICK to view)

 USFS Director “Regrets” Secure Rural Schools Funds Takeback

Murkowski told Forest Service Director Tom Tidwell that she was having a difficult time understanding how the Department could justify attempting to “claw back” the vital secure rural school funds and then claim it was an accounting issue to comply with sequestration.

“You had every reason to anticipate” that cuts would need to be made, she told Tidwell, yet the USFS delivered the full funds only to be forced to say “we want it back” – reminding him that many other agencies planned ahead to avoid this scenario.  USFS Director Tidwell responded that he made the call, hoping that “alternatives would be found to avoid sequester,” and then admitted that he regrets doing so.

(USFS “Regrets” Planning that Requires they Ask for Secure Rural Schools Money Back –CLICK to watch)

“Multiple Use” Gets Double Take

Senator Murkowski then pointed out the inconsistencies in Director Tidwell’s advocacy of United States Forest Service landing permits to boost the community economies through flightseeing tours, only to see managers of the Tongass dramatically cut the number of air tour permits which have been issued for years. 

Despite Tidwell’s making this claim in testimony last month, Murkowski told him point-blank that float planes in Ketchikan were seeing their permits being cut between 20-40 percent by the USFS.  “You are telling me on one hand to tell the people… to move towards tourism, utilize the forest in that way,” Murkowski told him, “but your agency is dramatically limiting their opportunities to provide to the tourism industry.”  Tidwell told her that he had heard the limits on permits were due to noise pollution concerns, but committed to asking questions in Alaska about the exact conditions and get back to her.