Alaska’s economy is based on natural resource development, whether it’s oil, natural gas, fishing, mining or timber.
Even tourism is largely dependent on wise management of natural resources.
Like in nature, this requires a balanced approach. Neither one extreme nor the other will ever prevail forever. The views of present Alaskans are likely to differ — at least somewhat — with future thoughts on Tongass management.
That said, the future of natural resource development in the Tongass National Forest made headlines this week with Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s effort to exempt the forest from the “Roadless Rule” and pre-empt the 2016 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan Amendment.
Murkowski has proposed to Congress that legislative adjustments be made to secure a viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska. Since the closure of two large pulp mills and smaller sawmills over the past couple of decades, the timber industry has struggled to stay alive.
Murkowski proposes a 360,000-acre inventory of young-growth timber in the Tongass. This inventory is viewed as necessary by the industry if there is to be a successful transition to young-growth-based harvests.
If Congress should adopt Murkowski’s proposed adjustments, the U.S. Forest Service would manage the 17-million-acre Tongass under the 2008 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan.
The proposal is included in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal 2018.
Murkowski is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Murkowski’s proposal is in response to the industry’s plea. It has witnessed the amount of Tongass timber under contract for harvest by the Forest Service decline in the past 20 years from 498 million board feet to 78 mbf. Young growth doesn’t begin to fill the gap.
It’s also mostly an export product at present. Murkowski’s efforts may lead to developments within the industry to allow for regional manufacturing, which would provide jobs and enhance the economy.
Meanwhile, exempting Alaska’s national forests from the Roadless Rule would loosen restraints on other types of development in the Tongass, as well.
Tongass management is a decades-old topic with significant time, work, money and planning invested. It’s also been confronted with much uncertainty for the industry. Most of that might have been unnecessary if Murkowski’s plan had been adopted previously.
As it is, Murkowski has a Congress and a president expected to be open to her proposal.
And ultimately Alaska depends on development of natural resources, as witnessed by their rise and fall through the years. The economy thrives when they are developed; not so much when they aren’t.
That will be the way of the land absent new ventures coming here.
— Ketchikan Daily News,