ANCHORAGE - U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and U.S. Rep. Don Young are defending measures they have put into a massive 2003 federal spending bill that could make more of the Tongass National Forest available to logging.
Stevens said environmentalists are distorting the effect of the measures.
"I'm disturbed to continue to read that we're trying to remove the roadless protection from 9 million acres. That's false. It's an absolute lie. It has got to stop," Stevens, an Alaska Republican, told reporters Tuesday.
Speaking on a public radio talk show Tuesday, Young said he was trying to allow for enough sales to sustain a sound timber industry. Lack of supply, he said, is putting timber-based companies out of business.
One measure would preclude appeals of the 1997 Tongass management plan or the Forest Service's upcoming decision on wilderness designation for parts of the forest. Another would exempt Alaska from the so-called roadless rule, which bans logging or other development in roadless parcels of at least 5,000 acres. Another provision would direct the Forest Service to supply enough timber to meet market demand.
Young called "nonmanagement" of the forest criminal. He said his rider is necessary so the Forest Service can sell an appropriate amount of Tongass timber.
"All I'm asking for is 150 (million) to 200 million board feet a year," he said.
Stevens was angry about statements from environmental groups that 9 million acres of the Tongass would lose protection if the rider passes. He said the actual acreage at stake is closer to 1.7 million acres, or less than 1 million acres when you count only the areas that have trees.
"We're starting to get mail from home (asking) 'What are you doing?' " he said. "Well, we're not doing what they said we're doing."
Tim Bristol, director of the Alaska Coalition, an environmental group based in Juneau, said it's a matter of perspective.
"The senator has a point, but it doesn't change the fact that his rider strips 9 million acres of roadless areas from roadless protections," he said.
The threat may not come from logging, but from mining or some other type of development, he said.