US Forest Service Chief Defends Timber Sales Plan

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service defended its plan Thursday to reduce the number of 10-year timber sales in Southeast Alaska.  Tom Tidwell appeared before the Senate Energy Committee to explain the President’s budget requests for next year.  He admitted to Senator Lisa Murkowski that if the goal is to sustain communities in Southeast, things must change.

Murkowski is upset because in 2008 the Forest Service promised to have four-decade-long timber sales in the Tongass National Forest, of up to 200 million board feet each.  But now instead it wants to convert two of those sales to what are called “stewardship” contracts, and only offer half the board feet in small parcels.  Murkowski asked Tidwell what happened to the commitment made by his agency.  The director says the goal is to make sure timber harvests go forward.

But Murkowski says the second largest remaining mill in Southeast just closed and now only has six employees, and the only large mill left is, in her words, desperately worried about its timber supply.

Senators voiced concerns at Thursday’s hearing about the Forest Service’s plan to consolidate some programs, and eliminate others, but Tidwell says much of that is only for accounting purposes.  Changes to the agency’s contributions to the Federal Subsistence Program, for example, won’t actually make a difference on the ground, only on the books, according to the Forest Service Chief.

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