while Developing New Approach to Forest Management in the Tongass
May 28, 2010
Two USDA agencies hosted listening sessions last fall in Southeast Alaska to gain insight into area community economics. The Forest Service and Rural Development asked communities how USDA agencies could help broaden Southeast Alaska's economic base. As a result of those sessions, the agencies are working to develop a "Transition Framework" program to help communities transition to a more diversified economy by providing jobs around renewable energy, forest restoration, tourism and recreation, subsistence, and fisheries and mariculture.
The agencies are joining with Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration to create the Transition Framework and will pursue this via a project implementation team composed of government agencies. The team will work closely with communities and community members; other federal agencies; state, local and Tribal governments; Tribal corporations; and the for-profit and non-profit sectors.
"Our goal at the listening sessions was to gain grassroots knowledge. The people in these communities have been living with the economic downturn for several years and have had time to think about improvements to their communities," said Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton. "Together, the Forest Service, Rural Development, and the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration will work with communities to improve the lives and livelihoods of Southeast Alaska residents."
During the listening sessions, the agencies recorded a list of project ideas brought forward by Southeast Alaska community members. Ideas included projects around renewable energy, fisheries and mariculture, subsistence, tourism, and forest restoration. The Transition Framework project implementation team will use that list as a starting point. The team will evaluate projects for potential implementation based on an assessment of feasibility, agency authority, community and partner support, and potential funding availability. The project idea list can be found at www.fs.fed.us/r10/ under the Transition Framework heading. The agencies expect to work with community members to identify and begin some "low-hanging fruit" projects this year.
Rural Development Area Director Keith Perkins heard that energy is a priority concern during the community meetings. "Access to cheap and reliable energy is a core requirement, whether it is for a family trying to survive the economic times or it is a business trying to keep its doors open for the local community," said Perkins.
As part of the broader transition framework, the agencies will also work to transition the forest business sector away from old-growth harvests toward young-growth management. The Alaska Region has assigned a stewardship contract coordinator to bring training and new expertise to the Region and increase the ability of the Forest Service to use long-term stewardship contracts to achieve restoration objectives. The Region is initiating plans for three stewardship contracts to be developed and offered over the next three years. The Tongass National Forest has implemented a host of changes to facilitate that transition, including hiring a young-growth coordinator and initiating a young-growth survey on the Tongass to expedite the Forest's ability to offer economic projects in young-growth areas.
Building from the existing Tongass Land Management Plan in the near-term, the Forest Service will continue to offer a limited number of old-growth sales in roaded forest areas to ensure that a bridge exists for the forest products industries to take advantage of Rural Development's business loan and grant programs to make the transition.
Other efforts will focus on creating restoration-based jobs, restoring fish and deer habitat to support the fishing industry and subsistence users, and examining possible energy projects. Small hydroelectric and bioenergy projects can provide lower cost energy and bring down the costs of doing business in Southeast Alaska. The agencies will also invest in facilities, trails, and other activities to attract increased recreation and tourism use and jobs.
"We believe we can use the forest restoration vision espoused by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and USFS Chief Tom Tidwell on the Tongass National Forest to help put people to work," said Pendleton. "The bottom line is that building jobs around a fuller suite of goods and services in Southeast Alaska will provide diversified jobs and community stability."
Summarized, the agencies are working to develop a framework to support a diversified economy around forest restoration, renewable energy, subsistence, tourism and recreation, fisheries and mariculture while sustaining and transitioning a viable timber economy.
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