Murkowski Questions Forest Service Spending, Timber Sales
Management Policies Strangling Southeast Alaska Economy a Top Concern
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today made the following comments to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in her opening statement at the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee’s hearing on the service’s 2012 budget proposal:
“Once again the Forest Service is recommending changes to the budget structure, including the combination of a significant number of programs into the Integrated Resource Restoration account.
“Given the difficulty the Forest Service seems to be having accomplishing work under the existing budget, perhaps I can be persuaded that this year’s proposed budget makes sense. But I’m concerned your proposal to take seven line items and turn them into one – called the Integrated Resource Restoration (IRR) – will make it much more difficult to figure out how or where the funding is being spent.
“I’m concerned about the permanent re-authorization of the Stewardship Contracting, which was proposed last year as a replacement for commercial timber sales. I am also troubled by your failure to provide the four 10-year timber sale contracts in Alaska that were promised.
“And I’m concerned about your proposal to combine the forest planning, inventory and monitoring line items together into one line item that may facilitate your draft forest plan rule, but will make forest planning more expensive and perhaps unworkable.
“We know that since 1997 over 41 million acres of National Forest land has been damaged or destroyed by insect activities, and your science advisors expect that activity to continue for the next decade. That equates to 19 percent of all of the forested acres within the 13 intermountain states, and as high as 33 percent in some states. And we know that in fiscal year 2010 the Forest Service treated less than two-tenths of one percent of the bark beetle impacted areas.
“Spending over $101 million of funding to treat 59,000 acres makes me question whether the Forest Service is ready to be trusted with a ‘big bucket’ budget approach like that which is called for in your Integrated Resource Restoration proposal.
“Related to the apparent difficulty the agency is having responding to the bark beetle epidemic, I would suggest that now is not the time to be acquiring new lands while cutting the fire assistance and other programs that rural communities depend upon. The last thing your agency needs is the added burden of having to manage yet more lands during periods of declining budgets.
“In your written testimony you have a portion titled ‘Jobs in Rural Communities.’ Folks in Southeast Alaska are skeptical and perhaps cynical about the promises made by the Forest Service.
The big mills in Southeast were gone years ago, but this year, the second largest remaining mill in Southeast closed and has gone from over 600 employees to six. The sole remaining large mill is desperately worried about its timber supply. The second largest timber related construction company is gone and the largest is now down to four employees.
“Chief Tidwell, the federal government owns 98 percent of Southeast Alaska, with the vast majority of that being the Tongass National Forest. Income is falling in Southeast and it is the only region of our state where the population is declining and getting older. This is a direct result of policy and management changes by the Forest Service.”
In 2008, the Forest Service promised to offer four 10-year timber sales, of up to 200 million board feet each, in the Tongass National Forest. The sales were meant to ensure the economic survival of mills in Southeast Alaska. In its current budget proposal, however, the Forest Service is now saying it wants to convert two of the timber sales to “stewardship” contracts and only offer half the board feet in small parcels. The continued failure of the service to offer access to timber has resulted in the closure of mills in the region and threatens the existence of the industry in Southeast Alaska.