- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service has released an amended plan for the Tongass National Forest that focuses on transitioning to young-growth timber.

Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart announced Thursday morning the release of the amended forest plan and the related final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision, The Ketchikan Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/29fHFvN).

Stewart says the switch from old-growth timber to young-growth timber should help sustain the timber industry in southeast Alaska.

The amended proposal calls for a 16-year transition period, longer than the initial request from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for a 10- to 15-year timeline.

“I think one of the primary reasons (for the 16-year timeline) was to try to maintain a viable industry, and the industry viability has to do with operability and marketability of forest products,” Stewart said. “And then also the opportunity to determine on the managing side how you would re-tool or operate in the future.”

The Forest Service will try to make as much as 46 million board feet per year available, with the percentage of old-growth timber decreasing over time. Stewart said by the 16th year there will be primarily young-growth with only about 5 million board feet comprised of old growth.

The final record of decision and amended plan are targeted for publication in December, and publication of the final decision would start the 16-year transition to young-growth timber, Stewart said.

Critics of the plan on Thursday released statements ranging from frustration to denunciation.

Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, said the plan isn’t good for the timber industry. He said Alaska needs a steady timber supply to be a viable industry.

“They want to get this (record of decision) signed because it’s all about the politics,” Graham said. “It’s not about the forest, and it’s not about anything other than just political shenanigans. … People in Washington, D.C., could care less about what happens in Alaska.”

A number of environmental groups released statements critical of the impact the Forest Service’s plan will have on wildlife.

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Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com

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