Management Policies Strangling Southeast Alaska Economy a Top Concern
March 03, 2011
Murkowski said, “Once again the Forest Service is recommending changes to the budget structure, including the combination of a significant number of programs into the Integrated Resource Restoration account."
Addressing her comments to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell during the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee’s hearing she said, “Given the difficulty the Forest Service seems to be having accomplishing work under the existing budget, perhaps I can be persuaded that this year’s proposed budget makes sense. But I’m concerned your proposal to take seven line items and turn them into one – called the Integrated Resource Restoration (IRR) – will make it much more difficult to figure out how or where the funding is being spent."
Murkowski said, “I’m concerned about the permanent re-authorization of the Stewardship Contracting, which was proposed last year as a replacement for commercial timber sales. I am also troubled by your failure to provide the four 10-year timber sale contracts in Alaska that were promised."
“We know that since 1997 over 41 million acres of National Forest land has been damaged or destroyed by insect activities, and your science advisors expect that activity to continue for the next decade. That equates to 19 percent of all of the forested acres within the 13 intermountain states, and as high as 33 percent in some states. And we know that in fiscal year 2010 the Forest Service treated less than two-tenths of one percent of the bark beetle impacted areas," said Murkowski.
With the Forest Service spending over $101 million of funding to treat 59,000 acres Murkowski said makes her question whether the Forest Service is ready to be trusted with a ‘big bucket’ budget approach like that which is called for in your Integrated Resource Restoration proposal.
Murkowski said, “Related to the apparent difficulty the agency is having responding to the bark beetle epidemic, I would suggest that now is not the time to be acquiring new lands while cutting the fire assistance and other programs that rural communities depend upon. The last thing your agency needs is the added burden of having to manage yet more lands during periods of declining budgets."
“In your written testimony you have a portion titled ‘Jobs in Rural Communities.’ Folks in Southeast Alaska are skeptical and perhaps cynical about the promises made by the Forest Service," she said to Chief Tidwell.
The big mills in Southeast were gone years ago said Murkowski, but this year, the second largest remaining mill in Southeast closed and has gone from over 600 employees to six. The sole remaining large mill is desperately worried about its timber supply. The second largest timber related construction company is gone and the largest is now down to four employees.
In 2008, the Forest Service promised to offer four 10-year timber sales, of up to 200 million board feet each, in the Tongass National Forest. The sales were meant to ensure the economic survival of mills in Southeast Alaska. In its current budget proposal, however, the Forest Service is now saying it wants to convert two of the timber sales to “stewardship” contracts and only offer half the board feet in small parcels. With the continued failure of the Forest Service to offer access to timber has resulted in the closure of mills in the region and threatens the existence of the industry in Southeast Alaska.
“Chief Tidwell, the federal government owns 98 percent of Southeast Alaska, with the vast majority of that being the Tongass National Forest. Income is falling in Southeast and it is the only region of our state where the population is declining and getting older. This is a direct result of policy and management changes by the Forest Service," said Murkowski.
The FY 2012 President’s budget request for the Forest Service totals $5.1 billion in discretionary appropriations, a decrease of $178 million from the FY 2011 Budget Estimate. Within the Forest Service the administration plans to merge multiple programs to streamline forest management overall. The FY 2012 proposal includes eliminating funds for Forest Service Land Management Planning, but significantly increases funds for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
In his testimony to the committee, Chief Tidwell addressed jobs in rural communities. He said more than 2.5 million Americans have forest-related jobs in fields ranging from ecological restoration to outdoor recreation services to the forest products industry.
Tidwell said the Forest Service provides service contracts for many types of activities including tree planting, timber harvesting, noxious weed control, culvert replacement, and road reconstruction said Tidwell. Recreation on national forest lands also bolsters local economies and creates jobs. The 2010 National Visitor Use Monitoring Report found that spending by recreation visitors in areas surrounding national forests amounts to nearly $13 billion each year.
Tidwell said one of the highlights of the IRR budget line item is creating job opportunities in rural areas. Creating job opportunities through landscape-scale restoration projects is a key component of the Priority Watersheds and Job Stabilization Initiative under IRR. Stewardship contracts and agreements will be a significant method for carrying out restoration efforts, and attention will be given to new and emerging markets for the wood removed during restoration activities, as well as the traditional uses for these products. Building a forest restoration economy will create new jobs in rural communities and help diversify the forest products industry to support the sustainability of local communities and the forest contractor infrastructure needed to perform restoration work. Also, he said the Forest Service is working to further build a forest restoration economy around wood utilization by targeting grants to assist small businesses. Since 2005, the Woody Biomass Utilization Grant Program has awarded a total of $30.6 million to 123 grant recipients in 21 States, including small businesses, non-profit organizations, Tribes, and State agencies, to further innovations in the wood products sector that lend to job creation.
The National Association of State Foresters recently responded to the release of President Obama's fiscal year 2012 budget by urging the Administration and Congress to adopt a bipartisan approach to budget compromises that does not compromise America's forests and forest economies. The nation's forest infrastructure, just like roads and schools, provides public benefits including jobs, clean air, clean water, and wildlife. As stewards of the more than two-thirds of America's forests, State Foresters effectively deliver Forest Service State & Private Forestry and other federal programs serving the forestlands that produce most of the nation's forest products and are at most risk from commercial and residential development.
The National Association of State Foresters said as States continue to face some of the worst fiscal conditions since the Great Depression, federal funding is more important than ever to ensure continued public benefits from forests. "At a time when government's investment ability is limited, State Foresters are well positioned to prioritize needs, leverage federal funds, and focus limited investment where it produces the greatest public good. State Foresters are focused on return on investment, not just investment," said National Association of State Foresters (NASF) President and Colorado State Forester Jeff Jahnke.
The National Association of State Foresters said they are interested in the Integrated Resource Restoration (IRR) Account concept outlined for the National Forest System if it provides managers more flexibility, helps respond to priorities in the State Forest Resource Assessments and Strategies (forest action plans) and holds managers accountable for outcomes.
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