Tongass Advisory Committee Releases Recommendations for Forest Management on the Tongass
May 11, 2015
During the final meeting held May 6-8 in Ketchikan, the Tongass Advisory Committee finalized its recommendations to advise the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, on developing an ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable forest management strategy for the Tongass National Forest.
Tongass National Forest Aerial Photo
Robert Bonnie, under secretary for natural resources and environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture, congratulated the committee for its accomplishment and noted that they succeeded in overcoming a long history of conflict over managing the Tongass.
“The recommendations of the Tongass Advisory Committee provide the Forest Service and the Tongass National Forest a roadmap for how to balance conservation, stabilize forest industry and local communities, and support the economic vitality of Southeast Alaska,” said Bonnie. “No one will be completely satisfied, and some will raise concerns with the recommendations, but the path forward for the Tongass will be built on the type of collaboration and compromise that the Committee has exemplified over the last nine months.”
The regional forester added she is “confident that their recommendations will play a key role in the future stewardship of the Tongass and she appreciates the sacrifice, the engagement, the innovation and creativity that have come from the committee – and their commitment to working together to strengthen Southeast Alaska communities.”
The Tongass Advisory Committee was specifically charged with providing advice about how to transition the Forest’s timber management program from a focus on old growth to predominantly young growth management in a way that is economically viable for the existing industry, while recognizing and balancing the other unique and equally important resource values of the Tongass. The Committee unanimously agreed upon recommendations that address elements needed in the Forest Plan Amendment, as well as the complementary institutional, cultural, and economic changes needed to make a successful transition.
Throughout nine months of deliberations, the overarching goal of the Committee was to bring stability to communities and industry, while preserving ecosystems. This is reflected in the Committee’s vision statement that describes a future in which “Southeast Alaska is comprised of prosperous, resilient communities that have the opportunity to predictably use and benefit from the diversity of forest resources to achieve the cultural, social, economic, and ecological health of the region for current and future generations.”
Thorough analysis by the Committee revealed that during the 10-15 year transition period specified by the Secretary, the amount of harvestable young growth in the “suitable land base” is not sufficient to support a viable timber industry. The Committee addressed this through creative solutions to bring forward more young growth sooner in the transition period, and simultaneously reduce old growth harvest earlier – for every unit of young growth volume brought forward into the transition solution, an equal unit of old growth will be conserved. Another critical underpinning of the Committee’s recommendations is reliance on a “co-intent” mandate to improve habitat conditions and long–term ecological function in young growth stands while producing timber volume from those areas. This approach challenges the status quo approach, and will ultimately lead to a better future for both communities and ecosystems in Southeast Alaska.
The Committee made it clear that cultural and operational changes in how the Forest conducts its business are mandatory for the success of the transition. Co-chair Les Cronk reminded everyone, “There is a lot of personal risk involved in this and we bet a lot on the outcome. It is going to be a long road ahead and it is up to the agency to help make it work.” Openness, transparency, and collaboration both within the Forest and with external parties will be essential to a successful outcome. Principal in the Committee’s recommendations was the creation of an Implementation and Monitoring Council to serve as the mechanism by which stakeholders can support and help hold accountable the Forest as it makes the transition to primarily young growth based management.
Staff and leadership heard this request, and are willing to be responsive. Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Robert Bonnie expressed his support, “You have provided a tremendous service to the Forest Service and the USDA. I feel a significant sense of responsibility to carry your recommendations forward.” Under Secretary Bonnie continued, “As we move forward, we will continue to have dialogue to know that [the agency and Department] are doing it right.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Committee members reflected on the quality of time spent together, the value of the relationships they built, and the importance of understanding each other’s perspectives. Co-chair Lynn Jungwirth expressed the sentiments of many when she said: “It has been an honor and a privilege to work with such a mature, high-functioning, and honest group. I am excited about seeing what happens in the next fifteen years. This represents an opportunity for a new kind of forest management. This is an honorable plan and the people of the Tongass deserve the opportunity to make it work.”
Not everyone was satisfied with the process in selecting members of the Committee. The Board of Directors of the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community in a letter to SitNews called the member selection process skewed. The Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community collectively represents over two hundred years of experience on Tongass conservation issues.
The letter stated their displeasure on 2 counts: the skewed process the Forest Service used to form the Tongass Advisory Committee (TAC), and the predictably skewed product that committee is fabricating as evidenced by the current Draft Recommendations.
David Beebe, President Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community wrote the letter on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community. Beebe said the Forest Service erred, first, by directing the TAC to develop a way to strengthen one industry alone: the timber industry. That’s hardly a sound basis for a legitimate alternative in TLMP.
This alternative was developed with no review by wildlife scientists wrote Beebe who has been a southeast Alaskan resident and commercial fisherman in several different fisheries for over three decades.
"It is an alternative with little or no meaningful representation of economic sectors which stand to be directly harmed by the TAC's recommendations (e.g., ecotourism, fishing, hunting, recreation.) This is unacceptable from a public agency," wrote Beebe.
Secondly, Beebe stated the Forest Service subverted democratic principles by hand-picking the representatives it wanted, to advance its own ends, rather than those who would be more broadly representative of long standing conservation concerns.
For example there are the 3 seats occupied by "conservationists," stated Beebe. "One is married to Tricia O'Conner, until recently, the Deputy Forest Supervisor for the Tongass. The other two are from Sitka, where they enjoy close working relationships with Ranger District staff, and have a history of funded collaboration with the agency. Nice enough guys, but hardly the face of Tongass conservation in the region. It is shameful that broad conservation representation was not provided by not including, for example, representatives from SEACC, or GSACC to diversify conservation representation on the committee," wrote Beebe.
Beebe said the letter was written so the public understands how and why the FS has subverted the normal NEPA process. "What we have now is a transparent charade of diversity, a programmed outcome, and an insult to public process," wrote Beebe.
"We deserved an equal voice with others because this is about the future of our home," wrote Beebe.
The Tongass Advisory Committee said they will continue to work together to ensure that the transition is successful, providing input during development of the draft and final Environmental Impact Statement for the Plan Amendment, and through implementation and monitoring of the transition.
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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