U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue made his first visit to Southeast Alaska on Thursday. Perdue spent Thursday morning in Ketchikan, and met with U.S. Forest Service officials, but spent most of the day on Prince of Wales Island.
Perdue was joined by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski a little after noon on POW. They first met with the Prince of Wales Landscape Assessment Team. That group includes diverse stakeholders who provided recommendations for managing Prince of Wales Island forests for the next 10 to 15 years.
The visiting officials also toured Viking Lumber mill in Klawock, and talked at length with co-owner Kirk Dahlstrom; toured young- and old-growth timber stands; and visited Goose Creek mills near Thorne Bay.
Perdue said he is impressed with how many resources the Tongass National Forest provides. He said he’s also impressed with how well the POW landscape assessment team worked together to come up with recommendations for future planning.
“I think we have a real head start on how we can come together with the community and all the stakeholders and the Forest Service, along with Sen. Murkowski and the representative government here, to make a viable multi-use plan for the Tongass that would lead to the economy and the jobs,” he said.
Perdue said that multi-use forest includes recreation and tourism, as well as timber harvest.
Perdue said it’s unlikely that the Roadless Rule will be repealed for the Tongass, but he wants to work with Sen. Murkowski and other state representatives to find a way to perhaps modify it for Alaska.
He said legal issues make a full exemption challenging.
“Obviously I’m a former governor, (and as one) that would be my preference, and honestly that would be my preference now, but we think the best way we can get to what the people on Prince of Wales and the Tongass really need and would like to see is really a state-specific rule where we participate – the U.S. Forest Service participates – with the state in helping to design something that would benefit this whole community and Southeastern Alaska,” he said.
Perdue was governor of Georgia until 2011. He was appointed to head the Department of Agriculture in spring of last year.
The 2001 Roadless Rule restricts logging and building new roads in designated parts of national forest land. Following litigation, Alaska was exempt from that rule until 2011 when the exemption was removed.
State officials and logging industry supporters have been lobbying to reinstate that exemption.
KRBD will have more next week on Perdue and Murkowski’s visit to Prince of Wales Island, including more details on the POW Landscape Assessment Team’s recommendations.