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FAIRBANKS - Gov. Frank Murkowski has signed into law a bill that will change the primary use of all state forests from "multi-use" to "timber."
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican, also makes other changes to state timber management.
"This bill is a step in the right direction toward promoting resource development and creation of jobs and new revenues for the state," Murkowski said in a press release. He signed the measure Friday in Ketchikan.
The bill sparked debate in the Legislature this spring, with environmental groups and many Democrats arguing that it caters too much to logging interests at the expense of other users, and would lessen oversight and public input into forest management.
The measure passed the Senate by a 12-8 vote along party lines and passed the House by a 27-10 vote, also mostly along party lines, with Republicans in support in both houses.
The 1.8-million-acre Tanana Valley State Forest, a 265-mile-long patchwork stretching along the Tanana River from Manley Hot Springs to the Canadian border, is one of two Alaska state forests. The other is the 270,000-acre Haines State Forest.
Both forests are open to a variety of uses governed by forest management plans, from dog mushing to mineral exploration.
The bill signed by Murkowski takes those uses off equal footing, making timber the primary function of those forests and of any state forests created in the future. That means timber would win out if there's a conflict between logging and another use in the forests.
The change won't mean much in the Tanana Valley forest in the short term because the timber available currently far exceeds the demand. According to the Division of Forestry, only about 1,000 acres a year in the Tanana Basin area are used for timber sales. That includes not just the state forest but another 1.5 million acres of state land in the area.
The changes made by the bill are not significant enough to require any immediate revisions to the current multi-use plan for the forest, which was last amended in 2001. But future editions of the plan could change if timber demand increases.