Letter in Support of H.R. 3650 

April 22, 2016

The Honorable Don Young
2314 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Re: H.R. 3650

Dear Congressman Young:

I am writing on behalf of the Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. (RDC) to express support for H.R. 3650, which authorizes states to select and acquire certain National Forest System lands to be managed and operated by the state for timber production and other multiple use purposes.

RDC is an Alaskan, non-profit, business association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, timber, tourism and fisheries industries. Our membership also includes Alaska Native regional and village corporations, local governments, organized labor and industry support firms. RDC’s mission is to help grow Alaska’s economy through the responsible development of natural resources.

Specifically, RDC joins the State of Alaska, Alaska Forest Association, Southeast Conference, Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce, and the business community in Southeast Alaska in advocating for the establishment of a state-owned two million acre forest from the 17- million acre Tongass National Forest, which the State was unable to select under the Alaska Statehood Act. Ironically, at statehood, the federal government would not allow Alaska to select land from the Tongass in order to guarantee an adequate supply of timber to an emerging forest products industry in the region. If Congress authorizes a state forest to be owned and managed by Alaska, the timber industry in the region could be revitalized and investment would be encouraged to allow the existing industry to survive and new timber facilities to be built.

In order to restore and sustain a viable timber manufacturing industry in Southeast Alaska, at least one million acres of timber must be managed on a sustained yield basis. Since the commercial timber stands are not contiguous in Southeast Alaska, a two million acre forest is needed to allow responsible timber management, which includes not only timber harvesting, but also fish and wildlife habitat buffers, municipal watershed protections, recreation areas, and other multiple uses.

The industry has done several analyses to determine the economy of scale necessary to have a competitive, sustainable manufacturing industry. That is why we are supporting the establishment of a two million acre state forest in the region.

Over the past 25 years, Southeast Alaska has lost two pulp mills, five large sawmills and thousands of family- wage jobs. Similar job losses have occurred in support businesses. Overall, more than 90 percent of the industry’s 3,000 direct jobs have been lost.

The Alaska Timber Task Force has recommended a two million acre state forest be established and managed by the State as the best way to insure a reliable, adequate timber supply. This recommendation is also supported by the Alaska Legislature. RDC was encouraged to hear your own expression of support for this state forest.

The State has already prepared a draft selection of lands that might comprise the state forest. We understand that the management of these lands would provide tens of millions of dollars of net revenue for the State, in addition to the restoration of about two thousand jobs in the region. The legislative options for acquiring these lands include purchase over time through net revenue sharing, land selections pursuant to the Statehood Act, as well as other options.

In 1980, as noted earlier, a fully integrated industry operated on a full-time basis in Southeast Alaska and provided 3,000 direct jobs and an estimated 2,000 indirect jobs. Many of the indirect support businesses have closed and all have been damaged by the decline in timber harvest in the Tongass. Manufacturing integration has been crippled, and with the loss of the pulp mills, the region no longer has a facility that can utilize pulp logs or residual chips from the local sawmills. Ketchikan alone has lost its pulp mill, three sawmills, and over 1,500 family-wage jobs. Similar job losses have occurred across the region.

The federal timber harvest averaged about 450 million board feet (mmbf) of saw logs plus 70 mmbf of utility logs annually in 1980. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) statutorily reduced and set the Tongass harvest level at 450 mmbf (net saw log volume) annually. In 1990, Congress replaced the ANILCA timber target with direction to the Forest Service to sell enough timber to satisfy the market demand and took away the automatic timber program funding provided by ANILCA. Over the last 35 years, the Forest Service has reduced the maximum allowable timber sale level to 267 mmbf, and is now working to reduce the harvest level to less than 50 mmbf. In recent years, the Forest Service has made available approximately 30 mmbf of timber annually via its timber sales process. This is well below market demand and is crippling what is left of the region’s forest products industry.

The Forest Service is now amending its land management plan to allow harvesting of only “young growth” timber, which is loosely defined as ‘previously harvested lands.’ This plan will reduce the federal timber harvest even lower. Moreover, the Alaska Forest Association has warned there is no manufacturing facility in Southeast Alaska which can process this young growth timber, which will mean that all timber harvested under this “young-growth” plan will have to be exported, further reducing jobs. Further, there is insufficient young growth acreage at this time to sustain a manufacturing industry and if the existing young-growth stands are harvested prematurely as currently planned by the agency, the timber yield from the young trees will be reduced by more than half, severely compromising the future of the industry in Southeast Alaska.

For the last two decades, the federal government has been unable to implement its own timber sale plans. As a result, many people both in the region and around the state now support the establishment of a two million acre State Forest in Southeast Alaska from portions of the Tongass. This forest would be managed by Alaskans in accordance with the rules established by the Alaska Forest Practices Act.

Timber harvesting in Southeast Alaska over the last hundred years has not had a negative impact on fish or wildlife habitat. In addition, logging roads have greatly increased recreation access. Meanwhile, Congress has already set aside in perpetuity about half of the timberlands in the region. What is needed now is access to sufficient timber to support our Southeast Alaska timber manufacturing industry.

In conclusion, RDC wholeheartedly supports legislation authorizing states to select and acquire National Forest System lands to be managed by states and their residents. Such legislation is absolutely key to the revival of a forest products industry in Southeast Alaska, which would greatly benefit local communities and help diversify a struggling Alaskan economy.

Resource Development Council for Alaska

cc: Alaska Congressional Delegation