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USDA Announces Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy

Jul 16, 2021 | Government, News

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The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy intended to help support a diverse economy, enhance community resilience, and conserve natural resources.

Through this strategy, USDA will consult with Tribes and Alaska Native corporations and engage partners and communities in a collaborative process to invest approximately $25 million in financial and technical resources in sustainable opportunities for economic growth and community well-being and identify priorities for future investments.

However, as a key part of Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, USDA will end large-scale old growth timber sales on the Tongass National Forest and will instead focus management resources to support forest restoration, recreation and resilience, including for climate, wildlife habit, and watershed improvement. Small and micro old growth sales will still be offered for community consumption and cultural uses such as totem poles, canoes, and tribal artisan use.

USDA will also initiate a rulemaking this summer that will propose to restore 2001 Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass National Forest, returning stability and certainty to the conservation of 9.3 million acres of the world’s largest temperate old growth rainforest.

US Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young  issued the following response to the Biden administration seeking to revoke the Tongass National Forest’s full exemption from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule and  further diminish the supply available for a viable timber industry.

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“The USDA holds the keys to the economic health of Southeast Alaska and is taking steps to lock it up for good. Repealing the Tongass exemption from the 2001 Roadless Rule is wrong. It will cost jobs, diminish income, keep energy prices high, and cripple the ability of the communities in the region to develop a sustainable, year-round economy,” says Senator Murkowski. “Secretary Vilsack called to tell me the USDA is providing $25 million in investments to help communities in the region, but what he failed to tell me is that the USDA is abandoning the science-based transition the Secretary previously promised to ensure there would still be a small but viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska. What the USDA is doing is effectively limiting long-term economic opportunities for the region in exchange for one time money. Alaskans are not naïve.”

“Like many Alaskans, this morning I read the news that the Biden administration will be imposing sweeping, bureaucratic restrictions shutting down economic opportunities on Alaskans’ lands,” says Senator Sullivan. “This announcement, and the way that it was leaked to the media, is yet one more example of the disregard the Biden administration has shown for Alaskans since day one—promulgating orders from D.C. without consulting Alaska’s elected officials or consideration for how these decisions will impact our hard-working families.

“Especially shocking is that just yesterday, I received a phone call from Secretary Vilsack about a one-time federal investment in the economies of Southeast Alaska, however, he failed to mention that this investment is simply a pay-off for killing sustained economic development opportunities in Southeast by reinstating and ratcheting up Roadless Rule restrictions and further starving our timber industry of supply. Greater restrictions on the Tongass have been opposed for decades by all of Alaska’s governors and the state’s federal elected officials, both Republican and Democratic.

“Let me be clear: $25 million doesn’t even come close to covering the economic damage that this administration’s policies will inflict on Southeast Alaska. Alaskans have the right to make a living, support our families, and connect our communities and have a much greater interest in seeing the Tongass healthy and sustainably managed than outside extreme environmental groups pulling the strings in the Biden administration.”

“Today, Washington DC bureaucrats who live and work 4,000 miles away have made a terrible decision for Alaska, and have shown a terrible disregard for our people,” says Congressman Young. “Last month, I implored Secretary Vilsack to come to Southeast and visit our communities before making a decision on the Tongass. Clearly, he did not. Had he, he would have learned that Alaskans do not want burdensome, unnecessary regulation. Those in Southeast, including Alaska Natives, know how to balance environmental protection with development; they have been doing it for years. To lock up the Tongass, as Secretary Vilsack is pursuing, sends the message that this Administration does not trust Alaskans to take care of the very environment in which they live.

“Make no mistake: USDA is dead wrong to do this to Alaska. All our communities are asking for are the same things many people take for granted: transportation, economic opportunity, outdoor recreation, and the ability to stay connected with one another. Here is a fact: national monument status combined with other land use designations mean that 80 percent of the Tongass will always be protected.

“Even with that, USDA is still promulgating the fantasy that they are doing Alaska a favor with their one-size-fits-all approach, but I know Alaskans will not fall for it. The COVID-19 pandemic has already harmed our state immensely; today’s decision is yet another nail in the coffin for economic opportunity in Southeast. I call on President Biden and Secretary Vilsack to reverse this decision and stop using the Tongass as a political football. The very livelihoods and safety of Alaska’s families hang in the balance.”

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