Alaskans need to join forces with Gov. Tony Knowles and the Alaska congressional delegation and keep the Clinton Administration's "roadless policy" out of the Tongass and Chugach National Forests. Here' why:
The roadless policy totally ignores the established forest land planning process.
By fiat, the roadless policy locks up so much suitable forest land that we can not sustain jobs and a viable timber industry.
The roadless policy violates the clause in Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) that unequivocally said no more public land would be locked up in Alaska.
It precludes rural communities from improving their core infrastructure needs, including drinking water and utility and transportation corridors.
Gov. Knowles staunchly supports the right of the Alaska public to participate in administrative and legislative actions that affect their lives. He said that the roadless initiative is not a public process. He understands that the roadless policy ensures that Alaska's forests will not sustain a viable and economically important timber industry. This policy will hurt Alaska's urban and rural communities. Alaska and our forest-dependent communities cannot absorb more loss of jobs and restricted access to land for core community needs that this policy will cause.
Alaska has a long history of responsible, public processes to guide the management of our forests and forest ecosystems. They were designed to protect wilderness, jobs and community well-being. ANILCA struck the right balance between the reservation of national conservation system units and those public lands necessary and appropriate for more intensive use and disposition. ANILCA's "no more" clause prohibited any further land withdrawals without the approval of Congress. The "no more" clause made sure that voices of the small, forest-dependent communities were not drowned out by the "postcard diplomacy" of well-financed corporate environmental organizations and foundations.
Congress passed the Tongass Timber Reform Act (TTRA) in 1990 and set aside another 1.2 million acres of national forest land. TTRA was a very public process that fixed obvious oversights in ANILCA by adding small but important ecosystems to conservation units. In this process, the voice of Alaska residents was heard.
The Clinton administration ignored the open and public processes in ANILCA and TTRA that produced the revisions to the Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP). The revised TLMP Plan, initiated in 1986 and ratified in 1997, allowed national public participation. Two years later, Interior Undersecretary Lyons disregarded this public process and significantly amended the 1997-revised TLMP. He cut the annual allowable harvest from the Tongass National Forest by more than 30 percent and injured Alaskans' ability to sustain a viable timber industry.
This blatant disregard for the public process and the health of Alaska's forest-dependent communities occurred after Lyons declared his support for the public forest land management planning process. Lyons said to the Southeast Conference that there would be no further significant timber or other land withdrawals on the Tongass National Forest. Lyons' unilateral actions demonstrate why there was a "no more" provision in the ANILCA: To stop Washington bureaucrats from imposing their own misguided ideology behind closed doors.
Lyons told us that the new national roadless policy would not apply to the Tongass National Forest because the Tongass land planning process had just been completed. In an about-face, the U.S. Forest Service EIS now recommends inclusion of the Tongass. This action reduces the annual harvest from Tongass by 82 percent and destroys our forest industry. All this without any meaningful site-specific considerations that the local planning processes require. The key public official obligated to ensure public participation in forest management decisions ignored the public's rights and became an agent for the corporate national environmental organizations who place ideology and perception above good science and the people's right to live and work in this great land.
The Clinton administration's threat to implement its roadless policies is real. It will harm our communities, who depend on access to the adjacent forests for drinking water, for cheaper electrical power, and for basic safe and reliable transportation corridors.
We must adopt an aggressive strategy that may include litigation, congressional action and administrative challenges to prevent application of the roadless policy to either the Tongass or Chugach National Forest.
This is now a matter of survival. If we fail to act, our communities and the economies of the Tongass and Chugach National Forests will become financially-dependent wards of the State and Federal government.
Robert W. Loescher is president and CEO of Sealaska Corporation.