March 22, 2006
Addressing the Southeast Conference yesterday Cole said, "I want to take this plan from excellent to outstanding, by building on new knowledge to add to the science we used ten years ago," He said, "With these changes, we can do an even better job of providing clean air, clean water, abundant wildlife, and economic stability for future generations."
Cole also reported that a new timber demand analysis, from the Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW), would be available to the public later in March. "The demand analysis is a key component of the amendment process, because it's the science that lets us answer one of the Court's findings," Cole noted. "I was able to read it once the independent peer review was completed, and I believe that the scenarios it presents will allow us to chart a future course for the Forest that will provide long-term vitality for the communities of Southeast Alaska and significant conservation of pristine landscapes."
Responding to Tuesday's announcement Gregory Vickrey of the Tongass Conservation Society said, "Clearly this is a monumental opportunity for the Forest Service to improve upon its practices on the Tongass. This opportunity allows the Forest Service to truly serve the mandate of multiple use - subsistence, recreation, fishing, hunting, tourism, and habitat conservation deserve proper attention; the Tongass is far more than a timber resource."
"Everyone recognizes the need for diversification of our economy in Southeast - and certainly in Ketchikan - and that diversification requires responsible management of our greatest resource: the Tongass. Watersheds must be protected to enhance commercial fishing, sport fishing, and subsistence gathering. Scenic values must be sustained to protect the various tourism markets available to us. And I could go on. The bottom line is sound management of the Tongass improves our quality of life, and sustains and improves our economy", said Vickrey.
Vickery said, "Recognition of our remaining wild and productive watersheds, healthy wildlife habitats, restoration, cuts in round log exporting, and sound second growth management should be on the Forest Service's priority list this time around."
"We look forward to working with the Forest Service on all these issues and are excited to see input from the public-at-large during the revision process," said Vickery.
Dave Sherman of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) said, "This is a great chance to create a forest plan that ensures we'll have the same opportunities for subsistence, recreation, fishing, and hunting in 50 years that we enjoy now."
"People's lives and livelihoods
in Hoonah depend on hunting, fishing, gathering food and medicinal
plants, and other traditional uses of the forest," says
Wanda Culp, a Tlingit descendent of Glacier Bay, who lives in
Hoonah. "In the past, Forest Service practices have only
harmed the places we depend on. They need to listen to us this
Mike Bangs, a commercial fisherman
from Petersburg said, "We need a plan that restores deer
and fish habitat in places like North Kuiu that have already
been hammered, and doesn't hurt areas like Port Houghton that
you can't replace."
Both Vickery and Sherman noted that commercial fishing and tourism businesses are among the top industries in Southeast, but the current forest plan still over-commits resources to an outdated timber industry.
Cole said that a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was at the Federal Register and would be published later this month. He added that the Forest Service would use the 1982 Planning Rule rather than the 2005 Rule, because the Court's decision calls for an EIS, and because many interested parties had asked that the Plan be amended with the same rules used to develop it.
A set of new alternatives, also a requirement of the Ninth Circuit Court's decision, will be developed by late May, Cole said. "These alternatives will 'tell the story' of the demand scenarios, covering a wide range of possible future economic conditions. These 'alternative stories" will give all of us a chance to carefully consider what might realistically happen in the timber industry and other contributors to Southeast Alaska economies. Then we can plan what role National Forest resources should play, and how to maintain all the other values of those resources that we collectively treasure." Cole added that he wanted to develop a coalition of citizens and interest groups to help the Forest Service create these alternative descriptions as the first step in developing a draft EIS.
The draft EIS will be published by the end of November 2006, followed by a 90-day public comment period. Unlike many previous planning processes, however, this amendment process has been open to public comment since January, when a new website was opened specifically for this process. The site, found at www.tongass-fpadjust.net, provides background information, continuous updates on progress, and opportunities for the public to present their views and input to the process. The Timber Demand Analysis will be posted on the website when it is available.
The Ninth Circuit Court decision
of August 2005 and the 2004 mid-term review of the plan found
the current forest plan illegal because of an admitted Forest
Service error that doubled projections of market demand for Tongass
timber. Market demand projections were used to determine the
maximum logging level allowed in the 1997 Forest Plan. The overall
effect of this error was to exaggerate Tongass logging levels,
and put far more land in logging designations than needed to
supply local mills.
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