Tongass Advisory Committee meets in Sitka

Representatives from across Southeast and the country will meet are meeting in Sitka this week to hash out timber issues on the Tongass.

Download Audio

It’s the fourth meeting of the Tongass Advisory Committee, which is working with the U.S. Forest Service as it tries to switch its focus from old-growth logging to harvesting smaller, younger trees.

Remains of a Tongass clear-cut and logging road north of Ketchikan. New growth in parts of the forest could be cut to jump-start a modern timber industry, a report says. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)
Remains of a Tongass clear-cut and logging road north of Ketchikan. New growth in parts of the forest could be cut to jump-start a modern timber industry, a report says. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

In 2010, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the “transition” on the Tongass, to phase out old-growth timber sales in the nation’s largest national forest. The goal is to build a timber industry focused on second-growth trees, and provide an economic boost for the region.

But that transition has not moved as a fast as some hoped.

The advisory committee was created this year to help move the process forward. That is no easy task, said Andrew Thoms, a committee member and the executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society.

“The major sticking points are that the Forest Service, and I think most people in Southeast Alaska, want to see some sort of a timber industry that uses the timber resources that we have in the Tongass,” Thoms said. “But figuring out how to do that in a way that creates a sustainable long-term yield, and is economical, without causing environmental damage, is really a difficult mixture to figure out.”

There are 15 committee members, including representatives from the timber industry, commercial fishing, tribal groups, and local governments, as well as conservationists like Thoms.

They are being asked to reconcile the needs of those warring factions into a set of recommendations for the Tongass Land Management Plan. That’s the document that governs who can do what, and where, on the Tongass.

Regional Forester Beth Pendleton says those recommendations are due soon.

“They are working under a pretty tight time frame,” Pendleton said. “With the expectation of providing those recommendations to the Forest Service, [in] late winter, early spring.”

Committee members will hear from Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole. They will also present their work to Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie.

The committee will meet at Sitka’s Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Nov. 19-21, starting at 8 a.m. The meetings are open to the public, and there is a public comment period on Friday, at 8:15 a.m.

The three previous meetings were held in Juneau, Ketchikan and on Prince of Wales Island.