The U.S. Forest Service wants to encourage loggers to cut down young trees and leave the old ones behind.
To that end, it is bringing Tongass National Forest stakeholders to the table to hash out a way to transition timber harvest from old growth to new growth over the next decade.
The USFS will use the committee’s input to revise the 2008 Tongass Land Management Plan, or forest plan, in hopes of reviving the timber industry in Southeast Alaska.
After receiving 75 applications from Tongass Advisory Committee hopefuls, the USFS narrowed the list to 15, according to a government news release. The members were announced Thursday and include three Juneauites: Jaeleen J. Araujo, who will represent Alaska Native tribes, organizations and corporations; Kirk A. Hardcastle, who will represent commercial users (those holding land-use permits and the public); and Keith E. Rush, who will represent national and regional environmental organizations. Assemblywoman Kate Troll is an alternate and would represent federal, state and local governments.
The first meeting will take place the week of July 21 in Southeast Alaska. A specific time, date and place will be decided soon. Committee meetings are open to the public.
Changes to the forest plan are needed to ease the transition to a young growth-based timber program in the next 10 to 15 years, the Forest Service says.
But in order for this to happen, a balance must be struck between the timber industry and environmental groups, according to forest supervisor Forrest Cole.
“For the past several decades we have a significant conflict with harvesting old growth timber and building roads,” he said. “We started getting into a significant conflict with interest groups.”
This conflict has hurt the timber industry, he said. Over the years, once booming Tongass timber mills have dwindled to one in Klawock and several “mom-and-pop types scattered throughout the forest,” Cole said.
“In the last several years, the mill in Ketchikan has closed, the mill in Wrangell has closed,” he said. “The remaining industry has struggled to stay alive.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack is “desiring us to get out of old growth and into young growth,” Cole said. “Because of conflicts of the past, (we’re) getting into a different supply that’s less controversial.”
This isn’t the first time the Forest Service has tried to work on the plan.
In 2005, the Tongass Futures Roundtable came together to discuss many of the issues on the table now, Cole said.
“That’s the first time people had sat in a room and had to be civil with each other,” he said.
That group failed, however, and disbanded two years ago.
“We gave them too big of a bite to work on,” Cole said. “But we still had a desire to ... see if we could come to a resolution on some type of timber program in Southeast that everybody can buy into.”
Tongass timber stands 250 years and older generally qualify as old growth. Young growth — which in Southeast usually means a forest that has already been logged once — is inferior wildlife habitat. That makes cutting it more acceptable in the eyes of some environmental advocates.
Within Tongass public lands are 450,000 acres of young growth stands harvested since the early 1900s, Cole said. About 200,000 acres of those are on unprotected land and suitable for harvest, called the “timber base.” The timber base could grow or change during the plan amendment process, Cole said.
There are also young growth stands owned by Native corporations and the Alaska Mental Health Trust.
“When you add up all of them, it’s about 900,000 acres,” Cole said. “So, collectively, its a large piece of real estate.”
The current forest plan includes “no guidelines for young growth timber harvest,” he said, adding that the committee might make a recommendation to increase or change regulations on young growth harvesting.
Three of the Tongass Advisory Committee members are from out of state. Lynn Jungwirth comes from Hayforth, Calif.; Erin Steinkruger from Portland, Ore.; and Jeffrey “Wade” Zammit from East Sound, Wash.
The members were chosen for their backgrounds, Cole said. For example, Jungwirth has been on a forest advisory committee before.
“We thought Lynn would bring to this group ... the realities of what other groups have gone through,” Cole said.
The full list of Tongass Advisory Committee members can be found online at www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r10/news-events/?cid=STELPRD3801588.
The committee is expected to submit its recommendations by May 2015, and the government will make its decision by August 2016. A 30-day public comment period on the future amendment will begin May 27 of this year. Comments can be filed online starting on that date. More information can be found online at www.fs.usda.gov/main/tongass/home.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.