Trump pushes for new log­ging in Alaska

The Prince George Citizen - - Money -

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has in­structed Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Sonny Per­due to ex­empt Alaska’s 16.7 mil­lion-acre Ton­gass Na­tional For­est from log­ging re­stric­tions im­posed nearly 20 years ago, ac­cord­ing to three peo­ple briefed on the is­sue, af­ter pri­vately dis­cussing the mat­ter with the state’s gov­er­nor.

The move would af­fect more than half of the world’s largest in­tact tem­per­ate rain­for­est, open­ing it up to po­ten­tial log­ging, en­ergy and min­ing projects. It would un­der­cut a sweep­ing Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy known as the “road­less rule” that has sur­vived a decades-long le­gal as­sault.

Trump has taken a per­sonal in­ter­est in “for­est man­age­ment,” a term he told a group of law­mak­ers last year he has “re­de­fined” since tak­ing of­fice.

Politi­cians have tus­sled for years over the fate of the Ton­gass, a mas­sive stretch of south­east­ern Alaska re­plete with old-growth spruce, hem­lock and cedar, rivers run­ning with salmon, and dra­matic fjords. Bill Clin­ton put more than half of it off lim­its to log­ging just days be­fore leav­ing of­fice in 2001, when he barred the con­struc­tion of roads in 58.5 mil­lion acres of un­de­vel­oped na­tional for­est across the coun­try. Ge­orge W. Bush sought to re­verse that pol­icy, hold­ing a hand­ful of tim­ber sales in the Ton­gass be­fore a fed­eral judge re­in­stated the Clin­ton rule.

Trump’s de­ci­sion to weigh in, at a time when For­est Ser­vice of­fi­cials had planned much more mod­est changes to man­ag­ing the agency’s sin­gle largest hold­ing, re­vives a bat­tle that the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion had aimed to set­tle.

In 2016, the agency fi­nal­ized a plan to phase out old-growth log­ging in the Ton­gass within a decade. Congress has des­ig­nated more than 5.7 mil­lion acres of the for­est as wilder­ness, which must re­main un­de­vel­oped un­der any cir­cum­stances.

Tim­ber pro­vides a small frac­tion of south­east Alaska’s jobs – just un­der one per cent, ac­cord­ing to the re­gional de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion South­east Con­fer­ence, com­pared with seafood pro­cess­ing’s eight per cent and tourism’s 17 per cent.

But Alaskans, in­clud­ing Gov. Michael Dun­leavy, R, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R, have pressed Trump to ex­empt their state from the road­less rule, which does not al­low roads ex­cept when the For­est Ser­vice ap­proves spe­cific projects. It bars com­mer­cial log­ging.

In a state­ment, Murkowski said all of Alaska’s elected of­fi­cials have sought to block the road­less rule.

“It should never have been applied to our state, and it is harm­ing our abil­ity to de­velop a sus­tain­able, year-round econ­omy for the South­east re­gion, where less than one per­cent of the land is pri­vately held,” she said. “The tim­ber in­dus­try has de­clined pre­cip­i­tously, and it is as­ton­ish­ing that the few re­main­ing mills in our na­tion’s largest na­tional for­est have to con­stantly worry about run­ning out of sup­ply.”

Alaskans have found a pow­er­ful ally in the pres­i­dent. Speak­ing to re­porters on June 26, af­ter meet­ing with Trump dur­ing a re­fu­el­ing stop at El­men­dorf Air Force Base, Dun­leavy said of the pres­i­dent, “He re­ally be­lieves in the op­por­tu­ni­ties here in Alaska, and he’s done every­thing he can to work with us on our min­ing con­cerns, tim­ber con­cerns; we talked about tar­iffs as well. We’re work­ing on a whole bunch of things to­gether, but the pres­i­dent does care very much about the state of Alaska.”

Trump ex­pressed sup­port for ex­empt­ing the Ton­gass from the road­less rule dur­ing that con­ver­sa­tion with Dun­leavy, ac­cord­ing to three peo­ple who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss internal de­lib­er­a­tions. Ear­lier this month, Trump told Per­due to is­sue a plan to that ef­fect this fall, these in­di­vid­u­als said.

It is un­clear how much log­ging would take place in the Ton­gass if fed­eral re­stric­tions were lifted, since the For­est Ser­vice would have to amend its ex­ist­ing man­age­ment plan to hold a new tim­ber sale. The 2016 plan iden­ti­fied 962,000 acres as suitable for com­mer­cial tim­ber and sug­gested no more than 568,000 acres of that should be logged.

John Schoen, a re­tired wildlife ecol­o­gist who worked in the Ton­gass for the Alaska Depart­ment of Fish and Game, co-au­thored a 2013 re­search paper find­ing that roughly half of the for­est’s large old-growth trees had been logged last cen­tury. The re­main­ing big trees pro­vide crit­i­cal habi­tat for black bear, Sitka black-tailed deer, a bird of prey called the North­ern Goshawk and other species, he added.

Trump has fre­quently talked with his ad­vis­ers about how to man­age the na­tion’s forests, and signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der last year aimed at in­creas­ing log­ging by stream­lin­ing fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal re­views of these projects. The pres­i­dent came un­der fire af­ter sug­gest­ing dur­ing a visit to Par­adise, the Cal­i­for­nia com­mu­nity dev­as­tated by a 2018 wild­fire, that the United States could curb such disas­ters by fol­low­ing Fin­land’s model since that na­tion spends “a lot of time on rak­ing and clean­ing and do­ing things, and they don’t have any prob­lem.”

The pres­i­dent has pep­pered Per­due with ques­tions about for­est man­age­ment and has in­di­cated that he wants to weigh in on any ma­jor forestry de­ci­sion, ac­cord­ing to cur­rent and former aides. Trump wanted to de­prive Cal­i­for­nia of fed­eral funds in re­tal­i­a­tion for the way they man­aged the state’s forests, but he ul­ti­mately did not fol­low up on the plan.

White House and Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment of­fi­cials re­ferred ques­tions to the For­est Ser­vice, which de­clined to com­ment. But the three peo­ple who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity said it was forg­ing ahead with an ex­emp­tion at Per­due’s in­struc­tions.

Chris Wood, pres­i­dent of Trout Un­lim­ited, joined with lo­cal busi­ness own­ers, con­ser­va­tion and out­doors groups in urg­ing fed­eral of­fi­cials to make more limited changes to the rule. He said the shift could jeop­ar­dize the re­gion’s com­mer­cial, sport and sub­sis­tence salmon fish­ing in­dus­try.

About 40 per cent of wild salmon that make their way down the West Coast spawn in the Ton­gass: the For­est Ser­vice es­ti­mates that the salmon in­dus­try gen­er­ates $986 mil­lion an­nu­ally. Re­turn­ing salmon bring nu­tri­ents with them that sus­tain for­est growth, while in­tact stands of trees keep streams cool and trap sed­i­ment.

Wood, who worked on the Clin­ton rule while at the For­est Ser­vice, said that in re­cent years agency of­fi­cials have “re­al­ized the golden goose is the salmon, not the trees.”

“They need to keep the trees stand­ing in or­der to keep the fish in the creeks,” Wood said.

The ques­tion over what sort of roads should be built in Amer­ica’s re­main­ing wild forests sparked intense bat­tles in the 1990s, cul­mi­nat­ing in the 2001 rule af­fect­ing a third of the For­est Ser­vice’s hold­ings in a dozen states. Some West­ern gov­er­nors, in­clud­ing in Idaho and Wy­oming, chal­lenged the re­stric­tions.

In some cases, con­ser­va­tion­ists and de­vel­op­ers have been able to forge a com­pro­mise. A decade ago, for ex­am­ple, Idaho of­fi­cials opened up roughly 400,000 acres of road­less ar­eas to ease oper­a­tions for a phos­phate mine while protecting 8.9 mil­lion acres in ex­change. But in Alaska con­sen­sus has been more elu­sive, with many state of­fi­cials ar­gu­ing that the lim­its have ham­pered de­vel­op­ment.

The For­est Ser­vice has ap­proved at least 55 projects in road­less ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to the agency, in­clud­ing 36 min­ing projects and 10 projects re­lated to the power sec­tor. Most projects win ap­proval “within a month of sub­mis­sion,” ac­cord­ing to an agency fact sheet.

But Robert Ven­ables, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of South­east Con­fer­ence, said per­mit­ting for some projects has taken years and made them too costly to com­plete.

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