Having been born and spent my early years in the Tongass National Forest, I know what a healthy forest industry can mean for our state. Forestry in the Tongass used to be a major economic component -- along with fishing, mining and tourism -- of the Panhandle's economy, at one time fueling more than 6,000 jobs and $300 million in annual revenue to the state.
Today, the industry is struggling after a series of federal policy changes, closure of the region's pulp mills and the negative effects of the world timber market.
While I don't expect the forest industry to return to its banner years, it is critical that a sustainable industry remain intact. We should also keep in mind that beyond its importance to the economy, a responsible harvest is crucial to maintain a healthy forest.
To help the forest industry reenergize and regenerate itself, I recently supported additional funding to pay for pre-timber sale layout, planning and road construction. I included budget language that requires the U.S. Forest Service to offer profitable tracts of red cedar timber to Alaska mill operators, and helped develop a new definition of biomass in the Senate energy bill that will permit dead trees, tops, slash, brush and other trees from the Tongass to be used for power or biofuels to promote renewable energy.
In previous years, I helped win the extension of Secure Rural School funding for timber-dependent communities with a new formula that is much more friendly to Alaska, and helped craft compromise legislation to pass the Healthy Forest legislation, which provided grants for thinning in the Chugach Forest.
Looking to the future, I introduced the Southeast Alaska Timber Industry Retooling and Restructuring Act to provide grants to timber and related long-time businesses in Southeast to help them restructure to processes that require less timber.
I will continue to press the Forest Service to implement the court-approved Tongass Land Management Plan and should the Tongass Futures Roundtable reach a regional consensus on what a revised management plan should look like, I will be ready to assist.
Reestablishing the forest industry in Alaska is an important step in revitalizing economic growth for Southeast, and the state as a whole, that I will continue to push.