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In the Tongass, every job counts

Posted: September 11, 2013 - 10:27pm  |  Updated: September 11, 2013 - 11:12pm
  Gov. Sean Parnell
Gov. Sean Parnell

The story of America includes starting a business and passing that entrepreneurial spirit on to your children. Whether it was a farm, a hardware store, or something else, America was built by these kinds of family enterprises, and family businesses still power Alaskan opportunity.

Southeast has all the elements necessary to succeed. Low-cost hydropower, mining opportunities, forest products, and aquaculture provide a diverse base for a vibrant economy.

Alaskans are just asking the Obama administration for a fair chance to put in a hard day’s work.

More than 5 million acres of the Tongass has been set aside to be managed as wilderness — no mining, no logging, no jobs. Another 9.6 million acres are effectively locked up by the Clinton “Roadless Rule.” In fact, 99 percent of the Tongass remains off limits to old growth logging, limiting Alaskans’ opportunity. In-depth studies and abundant yearly commercial salmon harvests demonstrate that logging can be done responsibly.

This is why I find Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s decision to shut down old-growth logging unacceptable. It’s a decision we will fight.

Federal management of the Tongass must give Southeast Alaskans a chance. This means allowing responsible logging of old growth in certain areas, to make sure Alaskans have year-round work in sawmills that not only provide direct jobs in the woods and mills, but also support other businesses in the smaller communities.

I appreciate the secretary’s efforts to grow jobs through increased second-growth harvest and development of recent timber sales. We will work closely with the U.S. Forest Service to create more jobs. We will also seek more designations of areas in the Tongass for mining and hydropower development.

I will not, however, sign off on or support the elimination of old-growth logging as a trade-off to the environmentalists, simply because their East Coast leadership is in search of a cause. Well-funded environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace have for many decades aggressively waged war on Alaskan jobs and on Alaska’s families.

Sadly for Alaskans, such lobbying has been effective within the Obama administration, which has ignored independent science panels and shut down fisheries in the Aleutians, bankrupting individual Alaskans. The Obama administration denied residents of King Cove a life-saving road for emergency evacuations. And it is trying to shut down the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge permanently, rather than allow seismic exploration using the latest technology. Stopping old-growth harvests in the Tongass is also high on the environmental groups’ hit list.

Our state has not been sitting idle. My State Timber Task Force developed and sent a request for state ownership or management of two million acres of the Tongass to our congressional delegation. Such a state forest would be managed by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, using the state’s logging standards under the Forest Practices Act.

The state is limited in what it can accomplish against the will of a federal agency. To put it bluntly, the state needs help from Congress.

We know the Obama administration will oppose giving the state any ownership or management of the Tongass, but we must fight for it, just as we have fought for hydropower and access to gold, silver, and rare earth minerals. I am asking our congressional delegation to help the state in three ways:

• Pass a bill transferring ownership or control of two million acres in the Tongass to the State of Alaska;

• Place language and funding in annual appropriation bills for the USFS that requires development of long term old-growth and second-growth timber sales on national forest lands, if requested by the governor of the state containing the national forest; and

• Repeal the Roadless Rule in Alaska, which allows for the designation of wilderness areas, a power only Congress legally has.

The voices of our Tongass families shall be heard in Washington.

I urge organizations such as Southeast Conference, local mayors and individuals to support a call to action and to let the Obama administration hear your support for Southeast families.

Sean Parnell is the governor of Alaska.

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