SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


House Votes To End Tongass Road Subsidy
By M.C. Kauffman


June 27, 2007

Ketchikan, Alaska - An amendment to the FY 2007 Interior Appropriations bill that would prohibit the use of funds for road building for the purposes of timber harvesting in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, was offered on the U.S. House of Representatives floor Tuesday evening and was passed by the House with a vote of 283 to 145.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK), Ranking Member on the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, said the Andrews/Chabot amendment passed Tuesday ignores local decision making, creating a one size fits all approach for the Tongass National Forest without consideration of the needs of the forest and the communities that rely on the forest.
In urging his colleagues to vote no on the amendment Tuesday evening Young said, "Let's be clear about one thing here.  This amendment is not about fiscal responsibility.  It is a give-away to radical environmental groups who want to treat the Tongass and all of Southeast Alaska as their taxpayer subsidized playground."

Locally, the Ketchikan-based Tongass Conservation Society was pleased with the vote said its Executive Director Gregory Vickrey. He said they were appreciative of the strong bipartisan efforts in the House of Representatives and the dedicated work of countless folks and businesses in Southeast Alaska and nationwide, for the vote to end taxpayer subsidies of logging roads in the Tongass National Forest.

The amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill, sponsored by Republican Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio and Democrat Robert Andrews of New Jersey, won by a count of 283 to 145 and was supported by a broad coalition of local Ketchikan businesses, citizens, and conservation groups said Vickrey.

"This is a clear and major step towards conserving this incredible rainforest and preserving the benefits it provides to the quality of life for us that live here as well as a step towards the multiple use mandate the Forest Service is required by law to subscribe to," says Gregory Vickrey of the Tongass Conservation Society. "Businesses that depend on the Tongass related to tourism, commercial and sport fishing, and sport hunting won today. Customary and traditional users won today. Taxpayers won today. All of us who enjoy this great ecosystem won today."

However Young disagrees that the taxpayers are the winners. He said on the House Floor, "The job-killing Andrews/Chabot amendment is not about protecting taxpayers.  It's about fooling them.  It's about forcing my constituents out of work and removing people from the Tongass so the environmentalists have a 17 million-acre, taxpayer subsidized playground for themselves."

Speaking against the passage of the Andrews/Chabot amendment Tuesday, Rep. Young said, "The problem with the timber harvest program is that environmental groups have purposefully driven up the costs of managing it by filing multiple, frivolous lawsuits and appeals.  Now that they have successfully created the problem, they're offering a solution: target a Member of Congress unfamiliar with Alaska and the Tongass; express concern that the Tongass timber program has become uneconomical and should not be funded by the taxpayer; request that they offer an amendment; threaten Members with a negative score on their annual report cards for failing to support the amendment."
  "And as long as we're talking about tax-payer dollars and "fiscal conservatism", Young said, "it should be noted that the lawsuits and appeals responsible for the high cost of doing business in the Tongass, are all funded by the American tax-payer under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which says that if you're an environmental fund raising group in the 9th Circuit, you file lawsuits by piecework, and get your money back for every one you file.
Young said it is the "taxpayer waste" that should be discussed. If it were not for the never-ending onslaught of frivolous, taxpayer-funded lawsuits and appeals, the U.S. Forest Service could be managing the timber program at a net profit said Young.
Vickrey of the Tongass Conservation Society said the bill will next go to the Senate, and one can reason that if passed, the Forest Service will be better equipped to fund programs related to tourism planning, cabin and trail building and maintenance, and fish and habitat restoration - all of which Vickrey say are woefully under-funded historically, He does note however that the latest statistics for the State demonstrate tremendous growth and opportunity in these areas. He provided the average 2004 monthly employment numbers as:

Scenic and sightseeing industry - 586 people
Seafood processing - 1,450 people
Active Fishermen (not including crew members) - 1,964

By contrast Vickrey noted, only 300 people were employed in logging and forestry in Southeast Alaska.

"Local support of this bill played a vital role in it getting passed, and those of us that live here [Ketchikan] are the ultimate beneficiaries. As it moves forward to the Senate, we look forward to seeing even more bipartisan support for this bill that further addresses our quality of life", said Vickrey.

Young said of the "yes" vote, the amendment will cripple what's left of the industry in Southeast Alaska and eliminate several hundred Alaskan Jobs.    
"The timber industry supports the best paying, year-around jobs in Southeast Alaska, and even though environmentalists have already succeeded locking up over 96 percent of the Tongass and eliminating most of these jobs, they're now after the remaining four percent and the last few hundred jobs.  This is nothing less than economic terrorism.  And what's worse?  The American taxpayer has been paying for it," said Young.

The Tongass National Forest occupies 16.8 million acres in Alaska.  Currently, about 14 million acres are set aside as wilderness, roadless, or as another land use where road building is generally not permitted.  



Sources of News:

Office of Congressman Don Young

Tongass Conservation Society
Web Site


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska