Governor seeks exemption for Tongass, Chugach in roadless plan

Posted: Friday, November 24, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles has asked the federal government to exempt the Tongass and Chugach national forests from President Clinton's roadless plan.

Knowles wrote a letter Tuesday to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman in which he said decisions concerning the Tongass and Chugach should be left to forest planners.

''The proper course of action is to exempt the Tongass and the Chugach from the rule and allow the forest plan adaptive management and amendment process to work,'' Knowles said in his letter.

Clinton's plan would ban road-building in 58.5 million acres of roadless national forests, allowing logging and road-building only in rare cases, such as to protect endangered species and prevent catastrophic wildfires. The plan is to be finalized Dec. 19.

The plan was amended earlier this month to include 9.3 million acres of the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, the largest national forest in the United States.

While the president's plan would delay including the Tongass until 2004, Knowles said the roadless recommendation still undermines the recently-completed Tongass Land Management Plan. That plan, which protects over 6 million acres from logging and road-building, took 15 years to complete and cost millions of dollars, he said.

Knowles told the agriculture secretary that the Chugach Land Management Plan also is nearing completion after a lengthy period of public comment, and it would be inappropriate to abandon it now.

''I am calling on you to ensure that, in Alaska, national forests roadless areas will be addressed through the forest planning process, and that the forest planning process will not be pre-empted by the roadless rule,'' Knowles' wrote.

Knowles told the agriculture secretary that, although not preferable, the state would consider challenging the plan in court.

In a separate letter, Knowles called on Alaska's Sen. Frank Murkowski and Rep. Don Young to use their influence in Congress to encourage a change in forest management policy in the next administration.

Murkowski, R-AK, said Alaska can't afford to wait. He said the state should file a lawsuit next month challenging the roadless plan.

''We are looking at the lockup of 9.3 million more acres of Alaska and potential timber harvest of maybe as little as 50 million board feet a year. A real industry can't be sustainable at that level,'' he said.

To make matters worse, Murkowski said, the Forest Service intends to almost immediately begin reducing timber harvest to prepare for 2004.

''We need to take this threat seriously now, not three years from now,'' he said.

Murkowski and Young on Tuesday asked the General Accounting Office to conduct an independent evaluation of the roadless plan.

The Clinton plan, as is, doesn't go for enough, said Aurah Landau, grassroots organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a coalition of 18 groups. Exempting the Tongass until 2004 leaves over 8,000 acres vulnerable to timber sales, she said.

The governor's time would be better spent appointing a team to look into diversifying the economy of Southeast Alaska to make it less timber-dependent, Landau said.

''Rather than trying to continue a sort of a dinosaur of an industry, let the Tongass continue its transition to small-scale timber,'' she said.

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