JUNEAU (AP) The state Senate has approved a bill that would change the primary purpose of state forests from multi-use to timber harvesting.
The bill passed 12-8 Monday, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposing and no debate on the Senate floor. It now heads to the House.
Supporters have pitched the bill as a way to promote the timber industry and resource development.
Hopefully, with this legislation, and with the encouragement of this administration, we can see significant additional utilization of a terribly underutilized resource,'' said Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, the sponsor of the bill.
Opponents say the changes would lessen oversight and public input into forest management and that they do not acknowledge the diverse uses of forest lands.
It's used for recreation, for hunting, for subsistence, it's used for all kinds of gathering activities, and a lot of those activities are not just fun and games, they're things that actually bring money back to the community,'' said Nancy Fresco of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.
Alaska has two state forests, including the 1.8 million-acre Tanana Valley State Forest, a 265-mile-long patchwork stretching along the Tanana River from Manley Hot Springs to the Canada border.
The Tanana forest is open to diverse activities such as mining and dog mushing and is governed by a forest management plan designed to accommodate different uses.
The change in statute would take those uses off equal footing and make timber the primary function of the forest and of any new state forests. Timber would win out whenever there's a conflict between logging and another use.
The change wouldn't mean much in the near future since the supply of timber in the forest far outstrips the demand: According to the Division of Forestry, only about 1,000 acres a year in the Tanana Basin area are used for timber sales, and that includes not just the forest but also an additional 1.5 million acres of state land eligible for the sales. That's less than 10 percent of the amount currently available.
If the bill becomes law, the changes wouldn't be significant enough to require any immediate revisions to the current multi-use plan for the forest, which was last amended in 2001. But future editions of the plan could change if timber demand increases.
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