The Tongass National Forest has received federal approval to use a previous version of agency rules to correct its forest plan, Tongass supervisor Forrest Cole announced Tuesday in Juneau.
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Cole said he signed a notice on Monday to amend the Tongass Land Management Plan. To avoid disruption to the Tongass timber program and the Panhandle's mills, Cole said he wants to finalize the revision by July 2007.
The revision was triggered by a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the Forest Service in a continuing Tongass timber lawsuit. In August, the appellate court ruled that the forest plan exaggerated the market demand for Tongass timber, among other problems.
"In addition, I intend to correct and update the plan on issues the Forest Service has identified since the plan was signed in 1997," Cole said Tuesday, in an afternoon speech to members of the Southeast Conference, a regional group of civic and business leaders meeting in Juneau this week.
It is "fairly significant" that the Tongass will use the 1982 planning rule to amend the plan, rather than a new planning rule for national forests published in 2005, Cole added.
The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and others in the region had asked for the Forest Service to use the 1982 rule. The older rule has "better opportunity for comment" and "more teeth" than the 2005 rule, said David Sherman, a grass-roots organizer for the Juneau-based council.
"Plus, folks are more familiar with (the old rule)," he said.
Getting approval for using the old rule required a lot of time and consultation in Washington, D.C. with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Alaska's congressional delegation, Cole said. The approval was given two weeks ago, he said.
Meanwhile, the 2005 rule is being challenged by environmentalists around the nation. Among their criticisms: It doesn't mandate an environmental impact statement.
Cole told his audience Tuesday said the Tongass will use the 1982 rule "because the court's decision calls for an EIS, and because many interested parties have asked that the plan be amended with the same rules that developed it."
The Alaska Forest Association's George Woodbury said he is "100 percent" behind Cole's attempts to amend the plan. He warned that environmentalists from outside Alaska would try to make the revision drag out out longer.
The public is invited comment on the revision at any point in the process, said Tongass spokesman Dennis Neill. Visit http://tongass-fpadjust.net for details.
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