About 80 million board feet of Southeast timber will be offered for sale this fiscal year, about 35 million less than last year and only 40 percent of the amount approved in the Tongass Land Management Plan, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The Forest Service's projection for timber harvested in the Tongass National Forest also fell from 146 million board feet in fiscal year 1999 to about 130 million to 140 million board feet in 2000. The amount sold to logging companies grew from 313 million to 361 million board feet .
A number of factors forced the Forest Service to reduce its original fiscal year 2000 projected offering of 148 million board feet, said Forrest Cole, forest management staff officer. He said a change in environmental analysis requirements for small timber sales, sending field crews to help fight fires in the Lower 48, timber sale appeals and late decisions on environmental impact statements all affected the offering.
"Those reasons are fairly significant," Cole said.
"I think 'irritating' is the word," said Jack Phelps, Alaska Forest Association executive director.
Phelps said Alaskans are losing jobs rapidly because Southeast sawmills are operating at well below their processing capabilities.
"Employment (in the timber industry) is 25 percent of what it was in '92," Phelps said. "This kind of offering level will push that down even farther."
The Forest Service's factors related to the reduction in board feet offered are only the tip of the iceberg, he said.
"We've been saying all along that the new management plan and direction coming out of Washington, D.C., is handcuffing and crippling both the timber sale program and the industry," Phelps said.
"Basically we have an aggravated assault we've made sure they (the Forest Service) have had the funds to put up sufficient numbers, but they're still not doing it. I'm not blaming the Forest Service, they're working hard, but they're crippled."
Aurah Landau, a grassroots organizer at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said the Forest Service is crippled by dwindling demand, not bureaucracy. She said only about two-thirds of the Forest Service's offerings are being sold.
"Tourism is growing at 10 percent per year. That's 600,000 per year off cruise ships," who come to Alaska to see forests like the Tongass, she said. "These areas are worth a lot more to us in standing timber. There's a huge need to manage forests for others. Managing for clearcutting or one-use monopoly doesn't allow for these future and current needs of the Tongass."
She said Southeast jobs would be better created by investing in tourism-related activities, such as road-building and the protection of fish and wildlife habitats. Harvesting doesn't need to be eliminated all together, she said.
"Their continuing practice of offering big timber sales by long-term contracts isn't meeting the needs of the Tongass," Landau said. "Instead of spending money on big sales and putting money on the changing face of the timber sales program, we should be planning for tourism in terms of timber."