- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Members of an advisory committee have been selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide recommendations on changes in Tongass National Forest management.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has told Tongass managers to begin changing from old-growth trees to younger harvests, CoastAlaska (https://is.gd/SZ7zb9) reported. Vilsack oversees the U.S. Forest Service.

The committee’s goal is to find a compromise among environmentalists, loggers, tribal groups and government agencies for managing the country’s largest national forest. The committee is part of the effort to update the 2008 plan.

The transition goal for the young-growth model is between 10 and 15 years. Until then, the Tongass is expected to supply enough trees for a viable timber industry.

Members of the committee come from various sides of the timber issue. They include members of the board of the pro-development Southeast Conference, as well as environmental representatives, tribal leaders, state and municipal officials and executives of Juneau-based Sealaska Corp., a regional Native corporation.

Committee members and five alternates are set to begin meeting in July, with recommendations due in May 2015.

Other panels have made similar efforts without finding a solution, but Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole said this one can work.

“One of the key criteria for selection was people’s ability to collaborate and find common ground,” he said.

Malena Marvin, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said the three environmental representatives on the committee will represent her interests well. But she wishes the transition to younger trees was happening more quickly.

“The truth is that Southeast Alaska can’t afford another 10 to 15 years of industrial-scale old-growth logging,” Marvin said. “It’s not time to transition to another industrial forestry economy. It’s time to transition to supporting local wood manufacturers that are going to be a strong part of our local economy.”

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