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Stevens, Young defend Tongass measures

Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young are defending measures they have put into the 2003 federal spending bill that could make more of the Tongass National Forest available to loggers.

Stevens said environmentalists are distorting the effect of the measures.

''I'm disturbed to continue to read that we're trying to remove the roadless protection from 9 million acres. That's false! It's an absolute lie! It has got to stop,'' Stevens, R-Alaska, told reporters Tuesday.

Young heard from angry constituents on ''Talk of Alaska,'' a call-in show on the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Young said several times during the hourlong program that he was trying to allow for enough timber sales to sustain a sound timber industry. Lack of supply, he argued, is putting timber-based companies out of business. But several callers said it was a soft market that killed those companies.

One measure would preclude appeals of the 1997 Tongass management plan or the Forest Service's upcoming decision on wilderness designation for parts of the forest.

Another measure would exempt Alaska from the so-called roadless rule, a conservation measure created by the Clinton administration that bans logging or other development in roadless parcels of at least 5,000 acres.

Another provision would direct the Forest Service to supply enough timber to meet market demand. A 1990 Tongass law said it must only ''seek to'' meet that demand.

Young called ''nonmanagement'' of the forest criminal. He said the rider is necessary so that the Forest Service can sell an appropriate amount of Tongass timber.

''All I'm asking for is 150 to 200 million board feet a year,'' he said.

Stevens was angry about statements from environmental groups that 9 million acres of the Tongass would lose protection if the rider passes. He said the actual acreage at stake is closer to 1.7 million acres, or less than 1 million acres when you count only the areas that have trees.

''We're starting to get mail from home (asking) 'What are you doing?' '' he said. ''Well, we're not doing what they said we're doing.''

According to the Forest Service's Web site, about 9.7 million acres of the Tongass is considered roadless. Only 330,000 of those acres would be available for logging under the 1997 plan, assuming the roadless rule did not apply.

Tim Bristol, director of the Alaska Coalition, an environmental group in Juneau, said it's a matter of perspective.

''The senator has a point, but it doesn't change the fact that his rider strips 9 million acres of roadless areas from roadless protections,'' he said.

The threat may not come from logging, he added. It could be mining or some other type of development, he said.

The 1997 plan, if not trumped by the roadless rule, would allow mining, power line construction or other types of nonlogging development on 2.3 million acres of the Tongass' roadless zones, according to Dennis Neill, a Forest Service spokesman.

Stevens said the Tongass rider was not holding up the giant domestic spending bill. Rather, he said, bill negotiators were hung up on money for drought management, election reform and firefighting.

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