Sen. Lisa Murkowski lambasted the head the U.S. Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, today during an oversight hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Her chief complaint, as usual, is what she perceives as a lack of old-growth logging in the Tongass National Forest, Alaska’s 17-million-acre temperate rainforest, a place that produces tens of millions of wild salmon and trout every year.
“Providing the Forest Service with a clear timber harvest management mandate is a key part of getting us back on track,” Murkowski said. “In Alaska, we need to do more because the reinstatement of the roadless rule is crippling our communities in Southeast. I believe we need to repeal the rule, but at the very least the Forest Service must provide flexibility in how it applies the rule in the Tongass.”
She was referring to a 2013 court decision allowing a Clinton administration-era regulation restricting road building in roadless parts of national forests to be applied to the Tongass. The Southeast Alaska forest – the country’s largest national forest and its biggest producer of wild salmon — had previously been exempted. The roadless rule protects intact fish and wildlife habitat. The Forest Service has announced plans to transition away from logging old growth and is developing plans to cut second-growth timber.
“Second growth timber is accessible from existing roads in areas not covered by the roadless rule so it’s peculiar that the senator would see repealing the rule as a necessity,” said Austin Williams, TU’s Alaska Forest Program Director.
Williams went on to say Murkowski’s remarks about Southeast Alaska’s economic condition belie realities on the ground. He cited, among other things, a report last summer by the Southeast Conference, a business trade group based in Juneau, indicating that Southeast Alaska has more residents – and more jobs – than ever before and that the region has recovered from the 1990’s logging industry crash.
The Southeast Conference noted that nearly every single economic indicator in the region is up and continuing to rise.
“The Southeast Alaska economy is now in a cycle of growth and is stronger than ever,” Meilani Schijvens, the report’s main author, told CoastAlaska public radio.
Rather than pushing for more logging, Murkowski should be encouraging the Forest Service to invest more in Southeast Alaska’s key industries – fishing and tourism, Williams said.