GAO: 2016 Tongass Plan Amendment is a "Rule" & Subject to Congressional Review
By MARY KAUFFMAN
October 24, 2017
Following the Government Accountability Office’s release of this determination, the Congressional Review Act provides for 60 legislative days to file a resolution of disapproval that would nullify the 2016 TLMP Amendment.
Chairman of the U.S.Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today welcomed the Government Accountability Office’s determination. Earlier this year, Murkowski asked GAO to determine whether the TLMP Amendment met the definition of a “rule”, and GAO announced yesterday that it does.
“I welcome GAO’s determination that the 2016 TLMP Amendment is a rule and subject to congressional review,” Murkowski said. “Every sector of the Southeast Alaska economy needs greater access to the Tongass, but this rule failed to provide it. Most concerning was the Forest Service’s decision to accelerate a transition to young-growth timber harvesting, even though it never completed an inventory to ensure it would be carried out successfully. While this rule can be improved administratively or legislatively, disapproving it entirely is now another option that we will consider in the days ahead.”
Since inception, the Tongass timber program has been based on harvesting old-growth trees-in the context of the Tongass, generally meaning trees more than 150 years old-that can be a source of high-quality lumber. The Forest Service began offering timber sales on the Tongass in the early 1900s. Although timber harvest increased substantially in the 1950s through 1970s, harvest has since declined significantly.
Spanning a total of 16.7 million acres, the Tongass covers most of Southeast Alaska and is the largest national forest in the United States. Despite its expansive size, the U.S. Forest Service has increasingly restricted access for timber, mining, transportation, renewable energy, and even recreation. Those restrictions increased when the Obama administration finalized the TLMP Amendment on its way out of office in December 2016. The Obama administration finalized the TLMP Amendment without completing a comprehensive inventory of young growth, a key recommendation of the Tongass Advisory Committee, and largely dismissed more than 1,000 objections.
The final 2016 Tongass Land Management Amended Plan scheduled an overall decrease in old-growth clearcut logging over a 15-year time period, prohibited old-growth logging in conservation priority watersheds, and protected roadless areas. The Amended Plan also opened long-standing conservation areas to young-growth timber harvest.
The Government Accountability Office concluded the 2016 Tongass Amendment is a rule for Congressional Review Act purposes as it meets the definition of the term "rule" under Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and none of the CRA exceptions apply. The USDA argued that the 2016 Tongass Amendment is a rule of particular applicability because it applies to a single national forest and, thus, is not a rule for purposes of Congressional Review Act pursuant to the exception in section 804(3)(a).
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