A recent report by the governor-appointed Alaska Timber Jobs Task Force calls for the construction of more logging roads, the expansion and extension of state forests and the transfer of 2 million acres from federal to state hands. The report was released on Oct. 16.
Governor Sean Parnell called for the task force under Administrative Order 258 in May 2011.
The task force reported that it believes insufficient timber volume is the main impediment to timber job creation in Southeast Alaska. The report blames uncertainty and cost associated with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Tongass Exemption to the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule.
Alaska is home to the Tongass National Forest and the Chugach National Forest.
Management of Southeast forests affects many parties — from the Viking mill of Klawock to smaller “mom and pop” mills near Ketchikan and Hoonah, and from sport hunters and fishermen who require access to forested land to commercial and subsistence fishermen who rely on productive salmon habitat. Loggers and timber land owners are also affected.
The transfer of Tongass National Forest land from federal to state control would result in areas with degraded habitat and fewer uses for Southeast Alaskans, according to Bob Claus, Forest Program director for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
“There’s less public control less input and fewer input on what people can do on land managed by the state,” Claus said. “You can see that on any tour of Southeast Alaska you look at Forest Service land, you can look at land that was managed under state guidelines it is drastically different in appearance and habitat quality.”
Claus said federal forest lands management allows for multiple uses while state forest practices designate land for timber use only. Overall, Claus said, statutes for state forest management are weaker than federal statutes.
“We think the governor should direct his employees in the state agencies to begin participation in the broader discussion,” Claus said. The Tongass Futures Roundtable is an example of that broader forum, he said.
The task force report also calls for changes to the state statute for negotiated timber sales including the extension of certain contract from one year to two years and elimination of public notice for certain small sales. Timber demand could be increased by development and promotion of new and existing wood products.
If implemented the task force's recommendations could timber supplies and create new jobs, Rick Harris executive vice president for Sealaska said.
“Sealaska is pleased that the Timber Task Force Report recognizes the role Sealaska plays in sustaining a Southeast logging industry,” Harris said. “We are providing logging related employment opportunities, particularly in rural communities and this can continue with the Reports support of the Sealaska land legislation.”
Harris said the industry is hobbled by an unpredictable timber supply.
“We believe the report has offered some important solutions,” Harris said, “but it will take courage and commitment by the governor and his team to enact the changes being recommended.“
The nine-member task force is made up of industry stakeholders, representatives for state government agencies and Southeast residents.
Members were appointed by the governor and include Chris Maisch, a state forester with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry; Randy Bates, director of Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Habitat; Brad Cox of Logging and Milling Associates; Bryce Dahlstrom of Viking Lumber Company; Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association; Nicole Grewe, economic analyst with the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Division of Economic Development; Ruth Monahan, deputy regional forester, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Alaska Region; Elaine Price, a Southeast Alaska resident and Randy Ruaro, deputy chief of staff serving the Governor’s Office.
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