Federal officials open public review of latest Tongass plan

Regulators seek to balance tourism, logging, other uses

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2007

Opposing sides were already lobbing mudballs as federal officials on Friday opened public review of the latest plan for managing the nation's largest national forest.

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The document, released earlier in the week, spells out seven alternatives for balancing logging, recreation, mining, tourism and other uses of the Tongass National Forest.

Tongass Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole said the agency wants to get away from "business as usual" and work collaboratively with all parties to find a good balance.

"What we want is to get out of the current mode of litigating every project that has any type of development," said Cole. "I hope to stabilize outputs in the future so that communities can rely on public lands for their economic well being if they so choose."

Cole said federal regulators have been working with the logging industry, conservation groups and communities. But much of the initial reaction to the document echoed past refrains.

The Sierra Club described the plan as "fatally flawed" because it placed too much emphasis on timber. Industry officials said it left little room for a viable timber economy to flourish in southeast Alaska.

The 16.8 million acre Tongass covers about 80 percent of southeast Alaska and provides a livelihood for many of its residents.

As the world's largest temperate rain forest, it also serves as a powerful symbol in the heated national debate over logging.

The document up for review is an amendment to the 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan, which has generated numerous appeals and lawsuits.

The 1997 plan allocated 3.9 million acres as logging areas, 2.4 million acres of which are in roadless parts of the forest.

The latest plan, which is expected to be published in the federal register by Monday, lists seven alternatives for managing the forest, with the maximum amount of timber available for sale ranging from 40 million to 420 million board feet a year.

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