During their stop in Southeast Alaska last week, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski met with the Prince of Wales Island Landscape Assessment Team.
That approximately one-hour meeting in Klawock gave a taste of what the POW group worked through to find consensus and provide recommendations about land management.
More than two years ago, a group of Prince of Wales Island residents gathered to talk about the future. They were recruited to help the U.S. Forest Service come up with goals for managing federal land on POW for the next 10 to 15 years.
It’s a diverse group representing a variety of interests and ideologies: logging, energy development, tribal interests, conservation. The common tie is they all live on Prince of Wales Island.
Jon Bolling is the administrator for the City of Craig. He also worked with the landscape assessment team. He said the group met regularly for about a year to come up with its recommendations, which focus on recreation opportunities, watershed restoration and timber harvest — young and old growth.
“It’s a broad-based document and I’m supportive of it,” he said. “It’s nice to (have) been a part of. Grateful, I am, very much so, for the support of the larger group that really worked together well to try to come to broad agreement.”
Many of the POW LAT members who spoke stressed the team’s ability to collaborate and compromise in order to find consensus with their recommendations. It wasn’t always easy, said Millie Schoonover, representing Shaan Seet Corp.
“But the end product, we came out as a unified voice,” she said. “And when we first started, I kind of wondered if that was going to happen.”
Schoonover said the biggest point of contention was logging. She said she’s worked with many different groups in her 72 years.
“But the tasks of the POW LAT were the most diverse,” she said. “And I thought, ‘How in the h– are we going to come together as a united voice?’ When we have fishermen, we have commercial fishermen, we have subsistence people, we have loggers, we have people wanting to go into new growth.”
But she said, team members kept the future in mind and worked through their differences.
The team submitted a long list of recommendations about a year ago. It included a continued supply of old-growth timber for local mills while younger stands continue to mature, and increasing the number of micro timber sales.
Non-timber-related recommendations include mountaintop transmission towers; improvements at recreational and historical sites; stream restoration and other fish habitat improvements; work on hiking trails; and better-maintained kayak routes.
Secretary Perdue told the group that he was impressed with their ability to find common ground.
“Senator, I’ve tried to hold my tongue here but my first impression is that we need to take this group to D.C. with us and help us figure out some other things,” he said to Sen. Murkowski.
Perdue added that it’s important to hear from those directly affected by decisions made about the Tongass National Forest: the people who live there.
“We can make those far-away decisions, but I don’t live here,” he said. “And why is it not respectful to come here and listen to what the community wants at large? Some may want a little different thing than another, but as we come together and consolidate that and collaborate, that’s what we hope to do.”
Murkowski told Perdue that his statement is music to the ears of Alaskans. She said it’s frustrating when Washington, D.C., officials tell Alaska what it needs.
“It is so important that this collaborative work – working it out in the trenches here – is respected by those who will ultimately be making those decisions,” she said. “And you, sir, are it.”
As secretary of agriculture, Perdue oversees the U.S. Forest Service, among other federal agencies. The Tongass National Forest covers most of Southeast Alaska.
During their visit to Prince of Wales, Perdue and Murkowski also toured sawmills on the island, and visited some timber stands. We’ll have a later report about that part of their trip.