Tongass access, management on tap at annual convention


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This Associated Press file photo provided by J. Schoen shows Mary Beth Schoen next to a pair of large trees at Saook Bay on Northeast Baranof Island in the Tongass National Forest. The Alaska Forest Association meets Oct. 23 to 25 in Ketchikan and expanding access to timber harvests in the Tongass National Forest is one of the top items on the agenda.

AP Photo/J. Schoen

Newly proposed timber management strategies should be a conversation driver at the Alaska Forest Association Convention Oct. 23 to 25 in Ketchikan.

Forest Association Executive Director Owen Graham said much of what will be proposed will be interim solutions until a long-term combined state and federal forest management plan can be agreed to. That includes a plan put forth by the Southeast Conference community coalition.

“The Southeast Conference has been working hard to develop an alternative management strategy that the (U.S.) Forest Service could adopt that would allow them to maintain all their fish and wildlife protections and at the same time increase the timber sale program,” Graham said.

A Forest Service silviculture, or forest management, program director is scheduled to present options for how to best regenerate timber growth from harvested areas, Graham said.

Managing harvestable areas for future timber production has become a priority for the Southeast timber industry as accessible old growth stands are harvested.

Additional Forest Service officials will be at the meetings to give their yearly Alaska timber supply and upcoming federal sale reports if the federal government shutdown has been resolved. In the event that the shutdown is ongoing during the meetings, Graham said he was given the Forest Service’s reports and can provide their updates himself.

“We’ve got an excellent relationship with the Forest Service and I know they’ll do everything they can to honor their commitments to us,” he said.

Foresters with the state Division of Forestry will also be on hand to give their state land reports. Graham said the Forest Association is continuing to push a proposed land transfer between the state and federal governments of Tongass National Forest land. The state-initiated proposal is to turn up to 2 million acres of federal land into state forest to be managed as available timber land.

The federal Roadless Rule, put in place in 2001 under President Bill Clinton, has limited the areas where financially viable logging can occur in Southeast’s 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest.

The land transfer was one of the recommendations in the June 2012 report issued to Gov. Sean Parnell by the Alaska Timber Jobs Task Force.

Alaska Forest Service officials are supportive of the land transfer as a way to provide the state’s timber industry with a long-term timber supply, Graham said. However, he said its something that may be several years away from getting done.

“I just don’t see the land transfer happening with the current (presidential) administration,” Graham said.

According to the Task Force report, the Forest Service offered 43 percent of the timber volume for harvest needed to meet its volume under contract sales objectives from 2001 to 2011. Since 2008, the Forest Service has been able to offer only 33 percent of the timber volume necessary to comply with federal management policy because of challenges imparted by the Roadless Rule, the report states.

Other annual presentations on University of Alaska and state Mental Health Trust land timber sales will be made as well. The Mental Health Trust manages approximately 130,000 acres of state-owned commercial timber land for the Department of Natural Resources.

According to the Trust officials, commercializing Southeast state lands near Petersburg, Ketchikan and Wrangell has been a top priority in recent years. Revenue from timber sale leases can account for up to half of the Trust’s total income in some years, according to the Trust Land Office website.

In traditional Forest Association fashion, Graham said the member convention will end with a “red suspender party.” Donated items are auctioned off at the party to raise money for college scholarships offered to Forest Association members’ families. Graham said the auctioned items garner $20,000 to $30,000 for the scholarships most years.

 

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

 

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