U.S. Senator Mark Begich today commented on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack's memorandum specifying direction for the transition in the Tongass National Forest to timber harvest consisting solely of young growth trees.
"I'm pleased that Secretary Vilsack recognizes the need to stabilize the timber industry by adopting a collaborative approach in which the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will coordinate with the State of Alaska, regional and village Native corporations, and others on a transition strategy," said Sen. Begich. "However, just a few days ago I voiced support for the Big Thorne timber sale decision as it seemed to indicate that the USFS was trying to provide a multi-year supply of timber to mills in Southeast Alaska. While the memorandum issued today references the need for "bridge timber' to keep the industry alive, it does not reference any specific sales other than the Big Thorne sale to accomplish that goal."
"The memorandum also states that in the next 10-15 years, the "vast majority' of timber sold in the Tongass will be young growth. Based upon meetings I have had with Southeast Alaska timber companies, I question whether that goal is realistic. I am therefore asking Secretary Vilsack to take some additional actions which I believe are minimally necessary in order to have a successful transition."
Additional actions include:
Assure that a sufficient supply of bridge timber will be provided to the timber industry during the entire transition period--regardless of its length. History in other states has taught that once the timber industry is lost and mills close, they will not return. Southeast Alaska cannot afford any more mill closures because the period needed for a full transition was underestimated.
Immediately order an update of the 1996 inventoried roadless maps to reflect reality on the ground. Sen. Begich initially made this request in 2011. Multiple changes occurred in the Tongass during the period of exemption from the roadless rule. Updating obsolete maps would easily increase the size of the timber base with no additional road building, and would make potential multi-year sales, such as Wrangell Island, more economic.
Assure Southeast Alaska that USDA understands that any successful solution in the Tongass National Forest should be created by its people and communities. The Secretary should assure both that they will have a meaningful role as the implementation of the transition occurs, and that management of the Tongass National Forest is returned to the USFS Tongass National Forest.