KETCHIKAN, Alaska – Today, May 8, the Tongass Advisory Committee demonstrated the power of collaboration and compromise. After 10 months of detailed deliberation and in reflection of diverse public comment, the committee reached consensus on a robust set of recommendations for transitioning the Tongass National Forest’s timber program to one focused on harvesting young-growth trees.
These recommendations, which will be formally presented to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, provide the U.S. Forest Service with value-added concepts that could facilitate the transition in a way that respects and represents the diversity of user interests throughout the nation’s largest national forest.
While many of the ideas center around timber, many others address issues relating to recreation, fisheries and other areas of Tongass management. Overall, the committee has called for a cultural shift within the agency, urging that a new spirit of partnership, shared stewardship and responsiveness be woven into the way the Forest Service works in Southeast Alaska.
Acting on these concepts will begin a new chapter for the Tongass, in which this treasured landscape will be managed in a socially acceptable, ecologically responsible way while supporting an economically-viable forest management industry. The diversity of uses supported by the Tongass – from vigorous salmon harvests to world-class recreation, traditional subsistence hunting toinnovative forest products – will enhance the resiliency of rural communities throughout the forest and support Southeast Alaska’s more than 74,000 residents.
Robert Bonnie, under secretary for natural resources and environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture, congratulated the committee for its accomplishment and noted that they succeeded in overcoming a long history of conflict over managing the Tongass.
“The recommendations of the Tongass Advisory Committee provide the Forest Service and the Tongass National Forest a roadmap for how to balance conservation, stabilize forest industry and local communities, and support the economic vitality of Southeast Alaska,” said Bonnie. “No one will be completely satisfied, and some will raise concerns with the recommendations, but the path forward for the Tongass will be built on the type of collaboration and compromise that the Committee has exemplified over the last nine months.”
The Forest Service will now take the committee’s recommendations under advisement as it prepares to amend the 2008 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan (forest plan) in light of the young-growth transition.
Regional Forester Beth Pendleton commended the group for developing creative, but practical, ideas for the Tongass.
“Throughout their meetings, the group has demonstrated an impressive ability to reach common ground,” said Pendleton. “They’ve acknowledged that transitioning the industry, while maintaining predictable opportunities, requires potentially difficult trade-offs.”
The regional forester added she is “confident that their recommendations will play a key role in the future stewardship of the Tongass and she appreciates the sacrifice, the engagement, the innovation and creativity that have come from the committee – and their commitment to working together to strengthen Southeast Alaska communities.”
Tongass National Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart said “During this process, the committee has heard a wide range of public opinion and incorporated those interests into their deliberations. The TAC has expressed a strong interest in young-growth forest management that benefits the communities and cultures of Southeast Alaska.”
“As stewards of the Tongass, we’re mindful of our responsibility to sustain the ecological health and economic vitality of the region, and I believe the committee’s recommendations will help us do just that,” said Stewart. “I look forward to continuing collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders as we implement the young-growth transition.”