SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Forest Service releases the new Tongass National Forest plan
By M.C. Kauffman


January 26, 2008

Ketchikan, Alaska - More than 3 million acres in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the largest in the country at nearly 17 million acres, will be opened to logging, mining and road building under the new 2008 Tongass Land Management Plan released Friday.

jpg Denny Bschor

Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor signing the Record of Decision (ROD) Friday approving the 2008 Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan Amendment
Photograph courtesy USFS

The revised management plan for this southeast Alaska forest would leave about 3.4 million acres open to logging and other development, including about 2.4 million acres that are now remote and roadless. About 663,000 acres are in areas considered most valuable for timber production.

The process of developing and revising the Forest Plan has been ongoing since the 1980s. The cost of the plan and subsequent amendments is estimated to be nearly $25 million. Compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws, including response to appeals and litigation, represents a large portion of this dollar figure.

Thirty-three appeals and five lawsuits challenged the 1997 TLMP. The Forest Plan released Friday responds to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in 2005, which concluded the 1997 Forest Plan violated federal law. The amended plan adds 90,000 acres to old growth reserves and protects 47,000 acres of land most vulnerable to development. The amended plan, along with the final environmental impact statement and the record of decision, will be published in the Federal Register next month.

Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor signed the Record of Decision (ROD) Friday approving the 2008 Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan Amendment, and selected Alternative 6 with modifications noted in the ROD for the amended plan. The goals of the Amendment are to sustain the diversity and health of the forest, provide livelihoods and subsistence for its residents and ensure a source of recreation and solitude. The Amendment was completed in response to the Forest's own five-year plan review, and a Ninth Circuit Court decision in 2005.

One important element of the Plan that many communities, industries and groups have been anticipating is the amount of timber the forest can sell over the life of this Plan. The allowable sale quantity, or ASQ, in the Amendment remains generally unchanged from the 1997 Plan at approximately 267 million board feet a year over the 10 years, with some possible additional opportunities through more intensive management of second growth according to information provided by the Forest Service.

Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor said, "There may be disappointment that the ASQ [allowable sale quantity] hasn't increased or diminished, depending on your viewpoint." Bschor said, "What is significant in the amended plan however, is our commitment to the State of Alaska to provide an economic timber sale program which will allow the current industry to stabilize, and for an integrated timber industry to become established. That commitment will be formalized through agreements with the State, establishing a framework for us to work together into the future."

Bschor said that Friday's decision is the result of a new collaborative approach to managing the nation's largest temperate rainforest.Bschor said one of the most significant partnerships is with the State of Alaska, as evidenced by a shared vision statement signed by Governor Sarah Palin and Forest Service Chief Abigail R. Kimbell. The statement establishes a vision for sustainability of the Tongass and Southeast Alaska's communities in a coordinated effort to improve and promote natural resource management.

The Amended Forest Plan contains noteworthy changes to the 1997 Plan, including:

  • adding 90,000 acres to old growth reserves;
  • maintaining protection for goshawk nests;
  • expanding geologic special interest areas to protect 47,000 acres of karst lands most vulnerable to development;
  • adding a goal to consult with Native Alaskan Tribes to protect and maintain sacred sites across the forest;
  • moving several areas into the semi-remote recreation land category to address public concerns.

Governor Sarah Palin on Friday congratulated the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service on finalizing a management plan for the Tongass National Forest. The Governor also joined Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell in signing a 'shared vision statement' which establishes a plan for sustainability of the Tongass and Southeast Alaska's communities.

"This is a tremendous step toward having a sustainable, integrated timber industry," said Governor Palin. "Speaking now with one voice, we remain committed to responsible development that protects the diversity and health of the forest's wildlife while sustaining jobs and subsistence for residents of Southeast Alaska."

In a prepared statement Palin said as the planning phase of the process is completed, the State and Forest Service will shift their collective efforts to Forest Plan implementation. The State will continue to play an important role in this process and will have staff working with the Forest Service to begin putting the new Forest Plan to work on the ground. This process will emphasize both the conservation and economic timber aspects of the plan, the two central strategies that must work together to have a successful outcome.

Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) also praised the Forest Service's efforts to bring finality to the planning process and move toward implementation, which Stevens says is essential to the continuation of Alaska's timber industry.

"My staff and I received the plan today [Friday] and though we are still reviewing all the documents, it appears consistent with a previous briefing I received from the Forest Service," said Senator Stevens. "After the briefing, I believed the plan was a step in the right direction, toward an efficient, integrated, and viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska. However, I am withholding final judgment until we complete our review and hear from the timber industry on the plan's effectiveness."

In a prepared statement the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) said, "This 'phased' plan gives some breathing room for people to work together and find a common solution. It shows the Forest Service recognizes there are valuable places our communities depend on for a wide range of uses. Much of Bostwick Inlet was removed from logging, and the plan will delay logging in important places like the Cleveland Peninsula, much of Upper Tenakee Inlet, and Port Houghton."

jpg Tongass National Forest

Graphic courtesy U.S. Forest Service

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council notes that there is still work to be done to achieve a long-term balance of healthy and diverse communities, vibrant economies, and protection and responsible use of our forest home.

SEACC, a coalition of 16 volunteer citizen organizations based in 13 Southeast Alaskan communities, said they will continue to work with the Forest Service and other stakeholders on ways to protect resources and Southeast's way of life. "We hope to work toward a better balance, which includes forest restoration, small-scale timber sales that work for Southeast Alaska, and the ever-growing interest in recreation and tourism opportunities."

While supporters say opening up up more than 3 million acres in Alaska's Tongass National Forest to logging, mining and road building will revive Alaska's timber industry, some environmentalists fear this will devastate the forest.

According to Environment News Service (ENS), conservationists from across the country are indignant that roads will be punched through some of the nation's last, best roadless areas to allow private corporations to log America's public lands.

Gregory Vickrey with the Ketchikan-based Tongass Conservation Society said, "All over the Tongass there are roadless wildlands that local people and visitors hold dear, jeopardized by this new plan."

Vickrey said, "These are special places critical to the region's incredible fish, deer and other wildlife, world-famous recreational opportunities, cherished subsistence practices, and the businesses and jobs that depend on the region's natural treasures. These are the very things that make Southeast Alaskans most want to live here."

"The Tongass is the crown jewel of our nation's roadless wildlands," said Trish Rolfe at Alaska Sierra Club. "Wild salmon, bears, eagles, and wolves thrive there among moss-draped ancient trees, along crystalline fjords and untamed rivers. It has nine million acres of roadless areas that lack permanent protection. The Bush administration has just put some of the best of them on the chopping block."

"The Roadless Rule and the courts have sheltered many of the last, best places in our national forests, even during an administration hostile to forest protection. Now, with one foot out the door, Bush officials are looking for whatever way they can to give away the family silver," said Franz Matzner at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"Today," said Caitlin Hills with American Lands Alliance, "the federal government, in defiance of the facts and the strongly expressed sentiments of the American people to protect all roadless areas, has answered 'fire up the chainsaws.'"

"This plan simply ignores economic realities," said Christy Goldfuss with Environment America. "Logging these pristine areas makes no sense. The evidence is clear, there is no demand for Tongass timber and the federal government is simply throwing good money after bad building expensive roads in remote areas to sell timber the global economy can't absorb,"

"You may hear the Bush administration pay lip service to roadless area protection in connection with this plan, but make no mistake, millions of acres are at risk," said Tom Waldo at Earthjustice. "The feds are just saying if they don't rob us today, they'll rob us tomorrow."

"This amendment was produced in a little less than two years," said Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor. "The Forest Service could not have met that timeline without active participation by the State of Alaska, other federal agencies, communities of interests in Southeast Alaska and nationally, and the public. It was the common interest in a sustainable future for both the local communities and the natural resources of the Tongass that brought people together."

"The extensive collaboration with many new and existing partners played a very important role in the development of this Amendment, and will continue to be an integral part of the forest management and implementation of the Plan in the future," said Bschor.

Bschor expressed hope for the continued key role of the Tongass Futures Roundtable, a stakeholder group interested in Southeast Alaska land management and expressed thanks to The Nature Conservancy and several other foundations for sponsoring the Tongass Futures Roundtable. The Roundtable brings together organizations, groups and individuals of diverse perspectives about management and future of the Tongass and the surrounding communities.

The amended Tongass Land Management Plan, along with the final environmental impact statement and the record of decision, will be published in the Federal Register in February.



On the Web:

Forest Service documents on the 2008 Tongass National Forest Plan


Sources of News:

Office of the Governor
Office of Sen. Ted Stevens
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC)
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Environment News Service (ENS)
U.S. Forest Service

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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska