Juneau residents at Centennial Hall on Tuesday night said they want forest officials to consider the benefits of less logging when choosing a blueprint for future use of the Tongass National Forest.
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"Wilderness, wildlife. These have become commodities because they are increasingly valuable because they are increasingly rare. I believe these values are not given consideration and merit," said Mark Rorick on behalf of the Sierra Club.
Members of the public were asked Tuesday night at Centennial Hall to weigh in on seven different alternatives being considered by forest officials for the amended Tongass Land Management Plan, which will govern future use of the forest. In August 2005, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals mandated an amendment to the 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan. The court ruled that the 1997 plan, which had allocated 3.9 million acres of the forest as logging areas, had grossly overestimated timber demand.
About two dozen of the roughly 80 residents who attended the Tuesday meeting represented a very vocal contingent of off-road vehicle users. Several urged forest officials not to forget their needs when evaluating forest management.
"I really agree that there is a need for places for those who would like to use motorized vehicles in the forest. It is not in our best interest to destroy the forest. I'm not sure which of the alternatives I have seen so far I would most agree with, but one with less logging," said lifelong resident Jeremiah Blankenship, an off-road vehicle user.
Send and e-mail or fill out a comment form at www.tongass-fpadjust.net.
Mail written comments to: USDA FS Tongass NF Federal Building 648 Mission Street Ketchikan, AK 99901
The deadline is April 12.
Each alternative provides a recommendation for how best to balance logging, recreation, mining, tourism and other uses of the 16.8 million-acre forest. They range from allowing 40 million to 420 million board feet per year of available timber for sale.
"I think there is room for there to be a shift," said Erica Bjorum, an organizer with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
She said she believes that there is also still room for a logging industry, but it should reflect the most recent trends. In recent years, the timber industry has logged roughly 50 million board feet per year.
Logging industry officials, however, have argued that more timber needs to be made available to support future growth potential and ensure competition.
A study by Juneau's McDowell Group found that many Tongass timber sales were unable to attract bidders and about 40 percent of the timber harvest wasn't profitable because of low-quality wood.
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The study suggested a goal of roughly 350 million board feet per year for annual timber production.
Forest Service officials say they have received more than 36,000 comments from people throughout the nation, many of them via e-mail.
Before a plan is selected, each concern will be noted with an explanation as to how it was - or wasn't - addressed.
Similar public sessions are being hosted throughout Southeast Alaska during the next month. Tuesday, forest officials were also meeting with Hydaburg residents.
The next meeting is planned for 5 p.m. tonight at the Yakutat High School Auditorium in Yakutat.
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