U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski grilled the head of the U.S. Forest Service during a congressional hearing Wednesday over the slow pace of timber production in the Tongass National Forest.
Murkowski, R-Alaska, said chief Tom Tidwell’s appearance before the Senate Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee was like “Groundhog Day.”
“Because every year you commit to working with me to improve the timber sale program and permitting for other multiple-use activities on the Tongass National Forest, and the next year we find ourselves having the same conversation about why things have not improved,” Murkowski told Tidwell.
Forest Service Region 10 — Southeast Alaska — was the worst-preforming region last year when the harvest failed to even reach one-fifth of federal goals. A land management plan for the region projected in 2008 that production would be around 267 million board feet, but since then the total has been around 35 million board feet, Murkowski said.
“A harvest of 35 million board feet annually is unacceptable,” she said. “Despite repeated pledges from the Forest Service to increase timber harvest levels, we continue to see a steady march toward losing what remains of the timber industry in Southeast.”
She added that the stalled production is costing Southeast in terms of lost jobs potential.
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, also criticized the Forest Service’s policies and process for slowing development in Southeast’s timber industry. Specifically, Begich focused his attention on delays affecting a 6,000-acre timber sale on Prince of Wales Island known as the Big Thorne sale.
“I am concerned that, without the sale being finalized in the very near future, there will not be a sufficient volume of timber available for existing mills by the end of this year. This will harm the Southeast Alaska economy and put an additional burden on Alaska families,” Begich said in a statement. “It is time to get off the dime and make a decision on the Big Thorne timber sale.”
The issue has been stalled since at least July when the Forest Service completed a Record of Decision for the sale.
“The economy of Southeast and the livelihood of many depend on carefully planned harvests,” Begich added. “The timing is critical, and there is no reason for further delay.”