Sen. Murkowski Criticizes Forest Service for $2 Million Expenditure to Study Tongass Transition

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today questioned the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to award a $2.1 million contract to a private firm to develop a report on the effects of the agency’s proposed transition to young-growth timber management in the Tongass National Forest.

Murkowski said the money would have been better spent assisting Southeast Alaska’s struggling timber mills retrofit their existing equipment to handle young-growth. To date, the Forest Service has yet to provide any money – despite repeated promises to do so – for the retooling of existing mills.

The contract, awarded to Tetra Tech Inc., is for the development of an environmental impact statement to amend the Tongass National Forest Plan to reflect the administration’s choice to end the harvest of old-growth timber.

Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has repeatedly criticized the administration for failing to actively manage the Tongass and provide sufficient timber sales to support local mills or provide any funding for them to retrofit.

“The administration is treating the Tongass like a national park to the economic starvation of Southeast communities,” Murkowski said. “That has to change if Southeast communities are going to survive.”

The lack of available timber and the ongoing uncertainty over Forest Service harvest levels in the Tongass – including the long-delayed Big Thorne sale – have hamstrung the economy in Southeast, Murkowski said.

The current five-year management plan for the Tongass calls for the harvest of 267 million board feet annually. However, the Forest Service has allowed an average annual harvest of just 35 million board feet – 16.8 percent of the agency’s own target.

“Despite repeated pledges from the Forest Service to boost timber harvest levels in the Tongass, we continue to see a steady march toward losing what remains of the local timber industry,” Murkowski said. “If this continues there won’t be any industry left in Southeast to transition.”

The Forest Service manages more than 22 million acres of national forest lands in Alaska, including nearly all of the land in Southeast.