Measure Calls For Tongass Timber Transfer

Legislation urging the state to take over some Tongass National Forest lands is bringing questions and opposition. Sitka Republican Senator Bert Stedman’s resolution calls for the governor to seek transfer of Tongass timberlands.

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Aide Christie Jamieson spoke at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

She said the state could still select more than 5 million acres of federal land under the Alaska Statehood Act. But she said it can’t be logged.

“The state should be entitled to select some of its remaining land from the Tongass National Forest without being limited to recreation and community expansion,” she said.

The measure encourages Gov. Sean Parnell to pursue the land transfer. As an alternative, it suggests the state negotiate to directly purchase timberlands.

Judiciary committee members questioned how it would work. Chairman John Coghill, a North Pole Republican, was among them.

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to look far and wide and see if any state has been successful in negotiating land transfers from these types of lands,” he said.

The resolution supports a larger push for increased harvests recommended by the governor’s Timber Task Force. That includes a proposal from the pro-development Southeast Conference that would free up more Tongass forests for logging.

The committee heard from fishermen and environmentalists opposed to the resolution.

One was Joseph Sebastian of Kupreanof, near Petersburg.

“It’s a feel-good piece of nonsense that is likely to go nowhere. But I really think all our time would be better served finding more real problems to deal with,” he said.

Stedman’s Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 is expected to be heard in the Judiciary Committee again within the next week or two.

The Sitka senator was asked to appear in person and answer a list of questions from committee members.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.