The U.S. House of Representatives has limited federal spending on logging roads in the Tongass National Forest.
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The bipartisan amendment was approved as part of the 2008 Interior appropriations bill. It now goes to the Senate.
If the amendment is approved, it would block spending on roads constructed for use by private companies for logging operations.
This is the fourth time that Reps. Steven Chabot, R-Ohio, and Robert Andrews, D-N.J., the measure's co-sponsors, have tried to curb the spending program, which has been described as a federal subsidy for the private logging industry.
Southeast Alaska conservation groups lauded the amendment, which was approved by a 283-145 vote. Critics said blocking funding for roads would make it nearly impossible for the struggling Southeast Alaska timber industry to survive.
They also say it is incorrect to characterize the federal money as "subsidies."
"To call them subsidies doesn't make any sense," said George Woodbury, speaking on behalf of the Alaska Forests Association, which represents loggers.
The real subsidy is "the cost of locking up land by the environmental movement," he said.
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Buck Lindekugel, attorney for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said the bipartisan support for the amendment shows it is time for the federal government to stop supporting a program that harms other growing economies, such as fishing and tourism.
"We've got to stop dumping money down the drain," he said. "They should be spending money to fix the roads problems they've already got.
"There is work that can be done on this forest without building new logging roads," Lindekugel said. "It is just a matter of where you spend your money."
Larry Dunham, a Petersburg-based Tongass National Forest engineering staff officer, said eliminating the road money would affect other projects.
Engineers hired to oversee road projects, who also have a say in restoration or maintenance programs, might lose their jobs, Dunham said.
He also said freeing up the money spent on roads would not make more funds available for other projects.
"Roads dollars are not supposed to be spent on anything other than roads itself," he said.
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At the end of 2006, the Tongass National Forest had roughly 5,151 miles of road, including well-used public access roads, maintenance roads and overgrown logging spur roads, Dunham said.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, opposed the amendment, calling it "job-killing" and "economic terrorism."
"Let's be clear about one thing here," Young said. "This amendment is not about fiscal responsibility. It is a giveaway to radical environmental groups who want to treat the Tongass and all of Southeast Alaska as their taxpayer-subsidized playground."
Young said at a hearing Tuesday he would propose a plan to sell the national forest at fair market value to the state of Alaska, which would better manage it.
SEACC's Lindekugel called the idea "ridiculous."
"Where is the state going to get the money from, by raiding the whole (Alaska) Permanent Fund?" he said.
Brittany Retherford can
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