Clinton administration steamrolls Alaskans on national forests
Alaskans from across this great state need to join forces with Gov. Tony Knowles and the Alaska congressional delegation and keep the Clinton administration’s "roadless policy" out of our Tongass and Chugach national forests.
Here are four reasons why: 1. The roadless policy ignores the established forest land planning process. 2. By fiat, the roadless policy locks up so much suitable forest land that we can not sustain jobs and a viable timber industry. 3. The roadless policy violates the clause in Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that unequivocally said no more public land would be locked up in Alaska. 4. It precludes rural communities from improving their core infrastructure needs including drinking water and utility and transportation corridors.
Alaska has a long history of responsible, public processes to guide the management of our forests and forest ecosystems. They were designed to protect wilderness, jobs and community well-being. ANILCA struck the right balance between the reservation of national conservation system units and those public lands necessary and appropriate for more intensive use and disposition.
ANILCA’s "no more" clause prohibited any further land withdrawals without the approval of the Congress. The "no more" clause made sure that voices of the small, forest-dependent communities were not drowned out by the "postcard diplomacy" of well-financed corporate environmental organizations and foundations.
Congress passed the Tongass Timber Reform Act in 1990 and set aside another 1.2 million acres of national forest land. The TTRA was a very public process that fixed obvious oversights in ANILCA by adding small but important ecosystems to conservation units. In this process, the voice of Alaska residents was heard.
Unfortunately, the Clinton administration ignored the open and public processes in ANILCA and TTRA that produced the revisions to the Tongass Land Management Plan. The revised TLMP, initiated in 1986, and ratified in May 1997, allowed national public participation.
Two years later, U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary James Lyons disregarded this public process and significantly amended the 1997-revised TLMP. He cut the annual allowable harvest from the Tongass National Forest by more than 30 percent and injured Alaskans’ ability to sustain a viable timber industry.
This blatant disregard for the public process and the health of Alaska’s forest-dependent communities occurred after Lyons declared his support for the public forest land management planning process. Lyons said to the Southeast Conference that there would be no further significant timber or other land withdrawals on the Tongass National Forest. Lyon’s unilateral actions demonstrate clearly why there was a "no more" provision in the ANILCA: to stop Washington, D.C., bureaucrats from imposing their own misguided ideology behind closed doors.
The Clinton administration continues to steamroll the Alaska public. Lyons told us that the new national roadless policy would not apply to the Tongass National Forest because the Tongass land planning process had just been completed. In an about-face, the U.S. Forest Service environmental impact statement now recommends inclusion of the Tongass.
This action reduces the annual harvest from Tongass by 82 percent and destroys our forest industry. All this without any meaningful site-specific considerations that the local planning processes require. The key public official obligated to ensure public participation in forest management decisions ignored the public’s rights and became an agent for the corporate national environmental organizations who place ideology and perception above good science and the people’s right to live and work in this great land.
The roadless agenda is clear. The Clinton administration’s threat to implement its roadless policies is real. It will harm our communities, who depend on access to the adjacent forests for drinking water, for cheaper electrical power, and for basic safe and reliable transportation corridors.
We, as a state, must pull together and stop the economic strangulation of our communities. I applaud the way Knowles stood up for Alaska and protested the pre-emption of the TLMP process. The governor and the congressional delegation, working together with Alaskans, can influence the outcome. However, lukewarm and measured responses to this threat will not prevail.
We must adopt an aggressive strategy that may include litigation, congressional action and administrative challenges to prevent application of the roadless policy to either the Tongass or Chugach national forests.
This is now a matter of survival. Alaskans treasure independence and take pride in self-reliance. If we fail to act, our communities and the economies of the Tongass and Chugach national forests will become financially dependent wards of the state and federal governments.
Robert W. Loescher is president and chief executive of Sealaska Corp.