The planned Tongass National Forest transition to young-growth timber harvest came up during a Senate subcommittee hearing this week on Capitol Hill.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, as chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, asked Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell how the plan will ensure that mills such as Viking Lumber will be able to continue operating during the transition.
In a YouTube clip of the hearing posted by her office, Murkowski said mills will need to secure loans to retool for smaller diameter trees. To get that loan, they need to show lenders that there are trees available, which means a thorough inventory of young-growth stands needs to happen.
“It’s my understanding that the money we provided will provide the inventory on a total of 70,000 acres,” he said.
“70,000? The complete inventory is 435,000 acres,” Murkowski responded.
“The money we have right now will pay for the 70,000 acres,” Tidwell said. “As far as we continue after we do the inventory on that, yeah, there will be additional stand level inventory. It’s how we work. I’ll have to get back to you on what we’ll need in the future.”
Murkowski said that information is critical to mills, because they need to know there will be a supply of timber.
“Are the sales coming from Naukati? Are they coming from Wrangell Island? It’s one thing to show somebody a plan. It’s another to show him the timber. Show him the logs,” she said. “This is where, quite honestly, on the federal side, people are just giving up on you.”
Tidwell said the Forest Service is working with the state and private landowners in Southeast to coordinate and provide a supply of timber during the transition process. And, he said, once the inventory is complete, the Forest Service will be able to offer stewardship contracts, which will provide more stability for the timber industry over the long term.