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Murkowski: “It’s Groundhog Day” on Tongass Timber Problems

Senator Presses United States Forest Service Chief on Failure to Increase Timber Cut

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Lisa Murkowski today pressed U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on his failure to increase the amount of timber cut annually in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

(Click to play video)

Murkowski referred to Chief Tidwell’s appearance Wednesday before the Senate Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee hearing on the Forest Service’s budget request as “Groundhog Day.”

“Because every year you commit to working with me to improve the timber sale program and permitting for other multiple-use activities on the Tongass National Forest and the next year we find ourselves having the same conversation about why things have not improved,” Murkowski told Tidwell.

Last year was not a good one for Southeast, Alaska. Region 10 was the Forest Service’s worst performing region, with the agency accomplishing just 16.8 percent of its harvest target. The agency’s 2008 land management plan for the Tongass projected an annual timber sale program of up to 267 million board feet, but only about 35 million board feet have been harvested annually over the past decade.

“A harvest of 35 million board feet annually is unacceptable,” Murkowski said. “Despite repeated pledges from the Forest Service to increase timber harvest levels, we continue to see a steady march toward losing what remains of the timber industry in Southeast.”

Murkowski said the lack of available timber and the ongoing uncertainty over harvest levels in the Tongass were the principle barriers to job creation in Southeast, Alaska.

(Click to play video)

“Most of the mills that were operating in Southeast have closed due to a lack of timber supply. Energy projects that could really help provide some economic opportunity continue to be tied up in red tape due to federal government one-size-fits-all policies, like the roadless rule,” Murkowski told Tidwell. “You saw the situation on the ground with me last August. You assured us that we would see more opportunity and flexibility exercised, so that we could turn the corner and reenergize the economy of Southeast. Well, I am still waiting.”

The one large timber sale that had been promised by the Forest Service – the Big Thorne sale – was put on hold for further analysis back in September, leaving the region woefully short of making its target.

“Delay of the Big Thorne sale has left what remains of the timber industry struggling to hang on as it once again faces a period of constrained supply and uncertainty,” Murkowski said. “I continue to try to look on the positive side for hopeful signs that we might turn the corner, but each time we seem to hit a roadblock.”

Video of Sen. Murkowski questioning Chief Tidwell on the reinstatement of the 2003 Alaska exemption to the national roadless rule and renewable energy project proposals for the Tongass are available here.

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