Can it be? Could balanced, multiple-use land management be returning to the Tongass National Forest? Possibly, if the draft recommendation announced last week by the U.S Forest Service becomes policy.
The agency has released its draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that considers setting more of the Tongass aside as wilderness. The document was requested by a federal judge in response to lawsuits regarding the 1997 Tongass Land Management Plan.
In short, the Forest Service draft EIS recommends that federal land management policy for the Tongass return to the tenets of the 1997 TLMP. That document, although it represented a large reduction in allowable timber harvests, would allow a harvest of 267 million board feet of timber a year, just enough to sustain viable timber operations in the region. The 1997 TLMP still placed all but 767,000 acres of the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest off limits to timber harvests.
The plan was produced in a public process over several years and represents a relatively reasonable balance of protecting special areas and allowing a viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska.
Of course, some environmental groups have gone ballistic over the announcement. They'd hoped the Clinton administration's last-minute, lock-everything-up roadless initiative would kill off the remaining timber-related jobs in the Tongass. They're gearing up the propaganda effort to once again inundate the Forest Service with negative remarks during the upcoming 90-day public comment period.
That means its time for all Southeast Alaskans who believe that timber harvest is a sustainable use of the Tongass National Forest and vital to the areas socio-economic well-being to become involved, spread the positive word and make our voices heard. The opportunity to restore some sanity to Tongass land management is here. Let's make it happen.
-- Ketchikan Daily News
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