Sen. Frank Murkowski is renewing his call for Gov. Tony Knowles to sue the Clinton administration over its proposal to add more than 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest to a nationwide ''roadless initiative.''
In making the end-of-term proposal, the Clinton administration is choosing to arbitrarily ignore the extensive Tongass Land Management Plan -- some 13 years and $10 million in the making -- to appease environmentalists. That plan, completed just last year, puts about 80 percent of the 17 million-acre forest off-limits to logging.
The Clinton roadless proposal, expected to be finalized Dec. 19, would go into effect in the Tongass in 2004, but Murkowski says federal authorities have told him they intend to begin further reducing logging in the Tongass almost immediately.
Murkowski and Congressman Don Young have asked Knowles to roll out the state's legal cannons, but Knowles, as of yet, has not. Instead, the governor has called on the congressional delegation to pursue the matter, saying a lawsuit may not be the best method of resolving the problem.
For his part, Knowles has asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to ensure that any roadless designations be a part of the Tongass and Chugach forests planning process, and not be implemented by edict.
Alaska's congressional delegation says it has done, and is doing, what it can in the Tongass battle, but that the state must step up to the plate because only the state has the legal standing necessary to pursue the matter in court.
''The Clinton administration has already chosen to ignore the law and ignore the intent of Congress, even though the delegation has repeatedly expressed its disapproval in no uncertain terms,'' Murkowski says. ''It is time for the state to take a stand on the Tongass.''
At issue is the ''no more'' clause of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which prohibits federal land withdrawals of more than 5,000 acres without congressional consent.
We fail to see why a state lawsuit would be a detriment, especially if federal authorities plan to begin to further reduce logging in the Tongass despite the initiative's 2004 implementation date.
That further winding down of logging will deliver yet another economic body blow to Southeast Alaska, which already has borne the brunt of Clinton's search for a legacy not wrapped in a blue dress.
With the state and the congressional delegation working in concert -- hopefully with a new Republican administration -- perhaps the national forests in Alaska can be managed through planning and public process rather than presidential fiat.
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