Empire editorial: Assembly to consider Tongass resolution

Posted: Sunday, September 09, 2001

Monday evening the Juneau Assembly will consider a resolution calling for re-examination of the Roadless Policy as it applies to the Tongass National Forest. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, published Jan. 12, 2001, was a final, careless act of the Clinton Administration. Little consideration was given to sweeping damage that this act would create. The state of Alaska and at least five other states, tribes and various interested parties have legally challenged the Clinton directive.

A draft response issued to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by the Juneau Chamber of Commerce states "The Facts and Claims section of the Alaska Complaint enumerates specific violations of the National Forest Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, Tongass Timber Reform Act, The Organic Administration Act and the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act. Alaska has been irreparably harmed by the failure to follow these laws and by the arbitrary and capricious amendments to the revised Tongass and Chugach National Forest Land Management Plans."

Southeast Conference, the Alaska Municipal League, the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and Resource Alliance all support Alaska's complaint and endorse the Forest Service's decision to re-examine the Roadless Conservation Rule.

Gov. Knowles has taken a firm position calling for the removal of the Tongass and Chugach forests from the national roadless policy. In November letters to our congressional delegation and the Secretary of Agriculture, Gov. Knowles demanded that future roadless area issues be addressed through the Tongass and Chugach Land Management Plans. The governor also asked for a four-year delay in the imposition of the roadless policy in the Tongass to allow time to pursue remedial action, and provide the opportunity for confirmation of the concept of resource management based on sound science and public process.

The Tongass Land Management Plan is a testament to the public process. The TLMP took 15 years and millions of dollars to complete. The plan was based on careful study, planning and public input and is, as stated by the governor, "one of the most thorough resource planning processes in the history of the nation."

Clinton's Roadless Area Conservation Rule has wrought havoc throughout the West as years of careful planning and local input have been thoughtlessly cast aside, leaving the interpretation of intent to unqualified adjudicators such as Federal Judge James Singleton. Forest fires burn each year in our Western forests largely because of restrictive policies that prevent sensible management of the resource.

As the governor notes, Clinton's directive in essence places the whole Tongass in a de facto "wilderness" designation locking up any progress toward following the objectives of the TLMP. The U.S. Forest Service is frustrated because it has many beneficial projects and millions of dollars in appropriations collecting dust.

The key issues in managing the 17 million acres that the Tongass covers, concern a preference for local prerogatives, and an appreciation for diversified use. The TLMP designates more than 7 million acres as natural land designations featuring recreation, wild and scenic rivers, and old growth habitat. This is in addition to more than 6.8 million acres already protected from timber harvest and most roads by statute. Thus, approximately 75 percent of the Tongass National Forest is protected for all. Less than 4 percent of the Tongass is classified as suitable for timber management.

The designations of the 1997 TLMP leave 90 percent of the current unroaded lands in the Tongass intact at the time of the next land management plan revision.

Reasonable access and resource management can be accommodated in a sensible way. Many communities in Southeast Alaska were founded on the rich resources unique to Southeast Alaska. These economies where build on timber, mining and commercial fishing. The growth of tourism has only modestly helped to offset the loss of timber, mining and fishing jobs in some areas. However, only timber historically offers year-around employment. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of unreasonable and damaging restriction to the grave detriment of our region. Balance must be returned.

The roadless directive has created an economic hardship for many Southeast communities. Ketchikan's response to the Roadless Area Conservation Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) states: "The Tongass is largely undeveloped, and inventoried roadless areas must be available to provide for the basic infrastructure needs of the region such as roads for transportation and electric power transmission lines inventoried roadless areas must also be available for timber harvesting and mineral extraction. If not, the economic decline and attendant social problems experienced by the region because of increasing restrictions on the use of the forest and the decline in the timber supply from the Tongass will continue and worsen."

Thinning of the forest and removal of deadfalls are necessary to maintain healthy forests. The current plan shuts out the limited access required for these activities to be pursued.

It is essential that management decisions be made through the local planning process. This is a central premise of the National Forest Management Act and is in fact law. Making decisions based on the blizzards of post card comments from the far reaches of the nation generated by deeply funded activist groups will not serve local interests or scientific forest management.

We applaud the leadership of the Juneau Assembly for considering a position on this important regional issue and urge unanimous passage of the resolution to show support for our Southeast neighbors, the U.S. Forest Service and for sensible management of our forest resources.

Don Smith


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