In response to a July 3 announcement by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the Tongass National Forest, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Director, Tim Bristol, said the department, which oversees the Forest Service, missed an opportunity to focus the Forest Service on the real economic driver in the 17-million-acre Tongass–salmon and healthy forest ecosystems, and the economies they sustain.
“We appreciate the hard work that the Administration has put toward ending large-scale, old-growth logging on the Tongass, but this is a missed opportunity to recognize the Tongass for its true value. Salmon fishing supports some 7,200 jobs on the Tongass and is a billion-dollar-a-year industry. Tourism accounts for another roughly 10,000 jobs. Today the secretary said he’s going to allow another 10 to 15 years of old-growth logging on the Tongass. That threatens the healthy, unlogged watersheds and beautiful vistas that support Southeast Alaska.
In a July 3 press release, Vilsack referred to a 2010 pledge by his department to transition out of large-scale, old-growth logging in favor of second-growth management on the Tongass. Known as the Tongass transition framework, the three-year-old plan called for a rapid end to large-scale, old-growth timber harvest while directing the Forest Service to support bright spots in the regional economy such as fishing, tourism, visitor services, mariculture and alternative energy. But Vilsack said it would take his agency more than a decade to move beyond old-growth logging. He noted that earlier this week the Forest Service released a nearly 150 million board foot timber sale called Big Thorne, the largest old-growth timber sale on the Tongass in recent years.
“The Forest Service is trapped in an outdated model. Timber isn’t the economic driver it once was in the region. The fact is the Tongass is a salmon factory. It produces 70 percent of all salmon from national forests. Managing the Tongass for salmon should be the Forest Service’s primary function, not propping up old-growth logging for another 10 to 15 years. The fact that the secretary’s plan for the Tongass isn’t focused on salmon is deeply disappointing,” said Bristol.
Commercial troller and long-liner Jesse Remund was also disappointed with Vilsack’s announcement. A second-generation commercial fisherman from Port Alexander, an island fishing village in the Tongass National Forest, Remund said it’s hard to comprehend why the Forest Service is still offering old-growth to loggers when the economy of Southeast Alaska is rooted in fishing and tourism these days.
“The Forest Service has missed the mark. The Big Thorne timber sale and others like it are a huge waste. The Tongass’ rare, old-growth stands and the many salmon and trout-producing watersheds all over Southeast Alaska provide fish runs that are the envy of the world, especially in places where wild salmon have all but disappeared. The places the Forest Service plan to log sustain wild game like Sitka black-tailed deer that are a key subsistence food for families like mine. These old-growth stands are worth so much more when they aren’t clear-cut logged,” said Remund.
While Vilsack said it would take more than a decade for the Tongass to end clear-cutting old-growth, the secretary noted that he would be adding staff and resources to speed the transition to second-growth harvest, directing the development of new second-growth and restoration projects, and taking other steps including a possible amendment to the Tongass Land Management Plan to hasten the process.
“It’s good that they’re acknowledging that the pace of the transition is too slow. We encourage them to amend the Tongass forest plan and make the transition a reality. It’s past time for this agency to move staff resources and funding to start focusing on salmon as the top priority. That would be a good use of taxpayer dollars,” said Brad Elfers, owner of Alaska Fly Fishing Goods, a Juneau-based fly fishing business.
by Austin Williams
While the vast majority of Southeast Alaska has moved on, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell seems stuck in the past. And Senator Lisa Murkowski appears to be right there with him.
At an oversight hearing before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, Alaska State Forester Chris Maisch called for Congress to hand over two-million acres of the most productive lands in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to the State of Alaska, and to make the most valuable remaining old-growth timber in the Tognass available to be clear-cut logged and shipped overseas.
Senator Murkowski, lending her support, blamed the decline of the Southeast Alaska timber industry on federal policies, environmental lawsuits and stringent regulations, ignoring the fact that for decades logging on the Tongass occurred at unsustainable levels and was only able to maintain itself due to massive government subsidies.
She implied that if only the Forest Service increased the amount of clear-cut logging allowed on the Tongass, the Timber industry could return to its former past when two large pulp mills consumed vast volumes of the Tongass’ rare old-growth trees.
It’s hard to believe the senator is so out of touch with what is going on in Southeast Alaska. The Parnell Administration’s demand that the American people hand over millions of acres of their wildest national forest to special interests is absurd. It puts ideology ahead of what is best for the economy and long-term health of the region.
The last thing Southeast Alaska needs is a return to a massive old-growth logging program in the Tongass. Southeast is sustained by a healthy forest that produces tens of millions of wild salmon every year, providing more than 7,200 jobs in a billion-dollar salmon fishing industry. The region is also fueled by tourism, which creates more than 10,000 jobs that depend on beautiful scenery in its natural state, not unsightly clear cuts. According to Forest Service figures, the Tongass supports just 107 jobs in logging and milling at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $23 million annually in timber and road expenses. That’s more than $200,000 per job.
The Tongass is facing very real and tangible threats from those that wish to cast aside the most productive salmon watersheds and wildlife habitat on our public lands so they can liquidate its rare and valuable old-growth timber. It’s time for Congress and the Obama Administration to step up to the plate and ensure that we don’t reverse the progress made over the past few years in the Tongass.
In May, 2010, the Forest Service pledged to transition away from large-scale old-growth logging in the Tongass and move toward young-growth forest products and supporting job creation in existing industries such as fishing, seafood processing, tourism, visitor services and alternative energy. Despite the promising statement from three years ago, the Forest Service has yet to make good on its transition pledge. Funding for visitor services, recreation and watershed restoration is woefully inadequate. The agency is still high-centered on old-growth logging. It has 130 million board feet of timber under contract to cut and plans to sell another 600 million board feet over the next five years. In his testimony on Tuesday, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell noted that a 100 million board foot timber sale, dubbed Big Thorne, will be released soon. It would be the largest old-growth timber sale in the Tongass since the pulp mill days and a step in the wrong direction.
Senator Murkowski and the State of Alaska painted a grim portrayal of Southeast Alaska in Tuesday’s hearing. Contrary to their notion that the region’s population and jobs are shrinking, Southeast Alaska’s population has been growing since its low point in 2007, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Some of the fastest growing communities are on Prince of Wales Island, an area once dominated by logging. According to an October 2012 report by the Southeast Conference, a regional trade group that monitors economic trends, the region’s total student count increased slightly in 2012 for the first time since 1996 and “the population of Southeast Alaska children, after a long steep decline, is finally on the rise.”
Southeast Alaska has the largest seafood industry workforce in the state and, in 2011 and 2012, was the most lucrative region in Alaska for commercial salmon fishing, according to state government data.
Rather than misleading people into thinking that the main barrier to job creation in Southeast Alaska is a lack of logging, Senator Murkowski and Governor Parnell should be championing the real drivers of the region’s economy: fishing and tourism, and the productive salmon watersheds and scenic beauty of the Tongass National Forest that sustains them.
This story originally appeared in the Alaska Dispatch
The Forest Service today made a very poor decision for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the crown jewel of the country’s national forest system. Instead of implementing its 2010 transition plan that would move the 17-million-acre forest beyond large-scale old-growth logging, the federal agency — still stuck in the past — decided to offer nearly 150 million board feet of timber on more than 6,000 acres of old-growth fish and wildlife habitat for logging. Dubbed Big Thorne, it’s the largest timber sale in the Tongass since the days of the 1950s-era pulp mills that were guaranteed massive amounts of timber under 50-year contracts with the Forest Service.
The area slated for new clear-cutting is located near Thorne Bay and Coffman Cover on Prince of Wales Island, one of the worst-hit areas on the Tongass by logging and road construction. If allowed to occur, the Big Thorne timber sale will further threaten the area’s salmon and deer populations and harm the burgeoning tourism industry on Prince of Wales Island. Rather than offering more rare, old-growth rainforest for logging, the Forest Service ought to be making good on its pledge to transition into the region’s growth industries: fishing, tourism, recreation, visitor services, mariculture and alternative energy, according to Trout Unlimited.
“Given that Southeast Alaska salmon fishing supports more than 7,200 jobs and tourism supports another 10,000 jobs, and both are billion-dollar industries, it’s disappointing to see the Forest Service offer its largest old-growth timber sale since the pulp mills closed. This is a big step in the wrong direction for Southeast Alaska. It will further degrade several salmon streams, cause the loss of important deer habitat in an area where deer populations already fail to meet Forest Service standards, and end up costing U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars. Fishing and tourism are the real breadwinners in Southeast Alaska, and they depend on healthy salmon streams and wild scenery. The Forest Service needs to live up to the promise it made more than three years ago and put an end to this type of timber sale, ” said Austin Williams, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Forest Program manager.
According to Forest Service figures, the Tongass supports just 107 jobs in logging and milling at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $23 million annually in timber and road expenses. That’s more than $200,000 per job.
Members of the public who wish to voice concern about the Big Thorne timber sale should email Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org and Regional Forester Beth Pendleton at email@example.com.