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June 27, 2007 - House Votes In Strong Favor to End Tongass Road Subsidy

Thanks once again to strong bipartisan efforts in the House of Representatives and the dedicated work of countless folks and businesses in Southeast Alaska as well as throughout the lower 48, a vote to end taxpayer subsidies of logging roads in the Tongass National Forest passed on June 26, 2007. The amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill, sponsored by Republican Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio and Democrat Robert Andrews of New Jersey, won by a count of 283 to 145 and is supported by a broad coalition of local businesses, citizens, and conservation groups.

“This is a clear and major step towards conserving this incredible rainforest and preserving the benefits it provides to the quality of life for us that live here as well as a step towards the multiple use mandate the Forest Service is required by law to subscribe to,” says Gregory Vickrey of the Tongass Conservation Society. “Businesses that depend on the Tongass related to tourism, commercial and sport fishing, and sport hunting won today. Customary and traditional users won today. Taxpayers won today. All of us who enjoy this great ecosystem won today.”

The bill will next go to the Senate, and one can reason that if passed, the Forest Service will be better equipped to fund programs related to tourism planning, cabin and trail building and maintenance, and fish and habitat restoration – all of which are woefully under-funded historically, even though the latest statistics for the State demonstrate tremendous growth and opportunity in these areas as follows:

Average monthly employment numbers – 2004
Scenic and sightseeing industry – 586 people
Seafood processing – 1450 people
Active Fishermen (not including crewmembers) – 1964

By contrast, only 300 people were employed in logging and forestry in Southeast Alaska.

“Local support of this bill played a vital role in it getting passed, and those of us that live here are the ultimate beneficiaries. As it moves forward to the Senate, we look forward to seeing even more bipartisan support for this bill that further addresses our quality of life”, says Vickrey.

April 10, 2007 - New Poll Results Show Alaskans Oppose the Gravina Highway

Governor Palin, others encouraged to cancel contract

A new poll released this week shows strong statewide opposition to the Gravina Access Highway, a project which will cost $25.7 million for 3.2 miles of road according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and which leads to a bridge that has no assured funding.

The poll, conducted by Hays Research of Anchorage, found that 71% of Alaskans are opposed to construction of the Gravina Access Highway under current conditions. In Ketchikan, the opposition was even stronger at 75%.

The poll asked the following question:

“Although there is no dedicated source of funding for the Gravina Bridge (in Ketchikan), the State is currently moving ahead with the Gravina Access Highway - a 3.2 mile road that will connect the bridge to the airport. The contract for this road is 25.7 million dollars. Do you support spending approximately 8 million dollars per mile to build the Gravina Access Highway now (before funding is secured for the bridge project)?”


Gregory Vickrey of the Tongass Conservation Society in Ketchikan stated, “From this poll, it is clear the majority of Alaskans and folks in Ketchikan are opposed to spending money for this sort of road when there are no dedicated bridge funds. Without a bridge this is a road to nowhere, and at $8 million per mile, the cost is too high.”

The contract, signed by the Murkowski Administration before leaving office, is currently funded by an earmark similar to funds set aside originally for the Gravina Bridge, known domestically and internationally as the “Bridge to Nowhere”. Under intense scrutiny in the media and in Congress, the Gravina Bridge earmark was removed and the money was made available to the state for broader transportation uses.

Lois Epstein of the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project said, “Governor Palin has made it a priority to curtail the unwise financial decisions of the previous administration, as demonstrated by her cancellation of several Juneau Road contracts. The Governor can further clean house and reprioritize by canceling the contract for the Murkowski-era Gravina Highway and returning the money to federal taxpayers. It’s clear that a large majority of the state wants her to do this.”

Vickrey concludes, “It is high time Alaska DOT and the Governor reconsider options for Gravina, and citizen opposition to the current contract indicates that rethinking the project is a good place to start.” top^

April 5, 2007 - Tongass Settlement Agreement Reached

On April 3, the Tongass Conservation Society and other conservation groups reached a settlement agreement with the Forest Service and the timber industry. The conservation groups worked with the Forest Service and mill operators to hammer out a way to safeguard important community use areas while keeping the mills supplied with timber until the agency issues a new forest plan. The Forest Service withdrew multiple timber sales approved under the illegal 1997 Tongass forest plan that targeted important community use areas, such as the Emerald Bay sale on the Cleveland Peninsula, pending completion of the current forest plan revision.

“This decision is good for our business and good for Ketchikan,” says Bonnie Oaksmith of the Clover Bay Lodge on Prince of Wales Island. “Our lodge has been a substantial part of Ketchikan’s economy for 23 years. It is imperative the Forest Service plan addresses the needs of all users of the Tongass. Our business and others who need standing trees must be part of the future of the forest.”

Undeveloped lands like the Cleveland Peninsula, Moose Creek near Wrangell, and Little Seal Bay near Tenakee Springs support sport hunting, commercial and sport fishing, customary and traditional hunting, fishing and gathering, and guiding and tourism businesses. The streams and rivers in these areas also serve as key spawning habitat for wild salmon. Building more roads to clearcut Tongass old-growth in these wild watersheds harms these other values.

“The trips I take to Emerald Bay and Vixen Inlet provide a large portion of my annual income,” says Mark Galla, owner and hunting and sightseeing guide for Alaska Peak and Seas. “For my business, places that haven’t been logged are important. I’m glad the Forest Service is considering a forest plan that takes into account the value of places like Emerald Bay for businesses like mine.”

“Seal Bay, Long Bay and Goose Flats have been our stomping grounds for the three decades that my husband, Jed, and I have lived in Tenakee Inlet,” says Joan McBeen from Tenakee Springs. “From commercial fishing to berry-picking, we have come to understand how important a healthy forest is to our way of life. That’s why it’s important to me that the Forest Service keeps places like these safe from logging.”

“The Tongass Conservation Society hopes the Forest Service uses this settlement agreement as food for thought while reshaping the Tongass Plan,” says Gregory Vickrey. “We need to keep valuable places like the Cleveland Peninsula and Gravina Island intact.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Forest Service to revise the 1997 forest plan because the agency doubled its experts’ projections of market demand for Tongass timber. This error exaggerated projected logging levels and resulted in much more land being designated for logging than was necessary to supply local mills. Many important community use areas were slated for logging under the 1997 plan.

“This settlement allows the timber industry and other users of the forest—such as tourism businesses, subsistence, and recreation users—some breathing room while the Forest Service finalizes the forest plan,” says Dave Sherman of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “People and communities of Southeast Alaska deserve a forest plan that reflects the economic realities and true multiple-use in the 21st century.” top^

February 20, 2007 - All Eyes on Gravina

For several months now, the Tongass Conservation Society has taken a keen interest in the road building activities going on Gravina Island. Specifically, we have watched the construction of the Bostwick Road and the pursuit of other projects such as the Gravina Access Highway.

Why the interest? Any why are we speaking publically now?

The Bostwick Road is a pet project of the Murkowski administration, a “Roads to Resources” endeavor designed to make timber available to Pacific Log and Lumber (Steve Seley). This road became a concern of ours after discovering in mid-2006 that no portion of the road nor any of the associated rock pits were permitted under the Clean Water Act via the Army Corps of Engineers.

Roads built for silvicultural purposes are often exempt from permit status, but this one is not because it will remain open for recreation and other purposes. Statements made by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the United States Forest Service, and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to the Army Corps of Engineers staff monitoring the project verify this point, as do email exchanges I am privy to, as well as Borough Assembly meeting recordings.

So what we have, here, is a road under construction and nearly complete - a road that has not been permitted through proper legal channels as described in regulatory fashion: 33 CFR Part 326. top^

 



February 20, 2007 continued, All Eyes On Gravina:

Army Corps of Engineers staff, most prominently Robin Leighty, worked very hard to legitimize the Bostwick road project. Ms. Leighty and others visited Gravina with me during the fall of 2006 and were appalled not only by the lack of permitting but by the conditions of the road: erosion controls were all but nonexistent; overburden related to the pits was strewn into nearby wetlands; and debris from construction sprawled down the hillsides along Bostwick Lake.

At that point the Corps initiated a Cease and Desist process that would have stopped, temporarily, construction of the road, and prevented its use until permits were in place, erosion problems were dealt with, and any mitigation necessary would be completed.

Throughout November, December, and January 2007, we kept in close contact with the Corps and due to issues related to other projects such as the Berth IV construction, the Cease and Desist order was delayed. Finally, in January, we were told by Corps staff that the Cease and Desist order was complete and was making its way up the chain of command for issuance “by the end of the week”.

That Cease and Desist order was never issued. It is an order that has been held up by higher-ups in the Army Corps of Engineers regulatory staff. According to our conversations with staff responsible for the order’s creation, there is no plausible reason for delaying issuance. We strongly believe - when Army Corps of Engineers staff have visited the project, have documented its problems, have acknowledged its need for permitting under the Clean Water Act, and have pursued a process to legitimize the road - that issuance of the Cease and Desist order is way overdue. The reasons for issuing it have been fully vetted by Corps staff, and they agree fully with our concerns.

And yet here we are, with a road 2000 feet away from being complete, activity along it rampant, and the various agencies involved with its construction scrambling to explain, and backpedaling about, its stated purpose.

Because the Army Corps of Engineers has failed to follow the law by making sure the Bostwick road is permitted, we are speaking out. They have not upheld the standards written in the statute that require permitting of this road.

Because the Department of Natural Resources, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, and the United States Forest Service have not been forthright with the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the purpose of this road and have not legitimately pursued making it a legal project through permit applications, we are speaking out.

Because Gravina means so much to so many people, and because any development occurring there needs to be fully vetted through the proper legal channels, we are speaking out.

Because we are tired of agencies and governments working to circumvent the law while pursuing development in and around Ketchikan, we are speaking out.

We encourage you to speak out as well.

Here is the solution to this debacle of a project. The Army Corps of Engineers should issue a Cease and Desist order immediately. If they are unwilling to do so, the State of Alaska should halt construction voluntarily. Once the construction is put on hold, the Bostwick road should be closed indefinitely to activity beyond mitigation and repairs. The State should then work to secure the proper permits via the Army Corps of Engineers. In the meantime, the State should work with the Corps and the contractors to ensure erosion controls are put in place along the length of the current road, mitigation is performed to reduce damage and wetlands deterioration along its length and next to the associated rock pits, and debris along the route is removed. Once the proper permits are issued and damage has been curtailed or mitigated, the road may open again for logging activity on State and Mental Health lands.

Governor Palin has been made aware of the situation and the lack of permitting of the Bostwick road. If the Corps refuses to follow the law, we encourage the Governor to intervene directly and stop the construction and activity until permits are in place.

You may contact Governor Palin via her webpage: http://gov.state.ak.us/index.php

Let the Governor know that the Bostwick road should be closed until permits are in place.

You may contact the Army Corps of Engineers by calling: 800.478.2712.

Ask the Corps to issue a Cease and Desist order for the Bostwick road immediately.

You may contact TCS with questions or concerns.

And please feel free to visit our website for more information:
http://www.tongassconservation.org/gravina.html

Speak up. Write letters. Let’s get a road that is legal. top^

January 12, 2007 - Tongass Draft Plan Opens for Public Comment

Forest Service has opportunity to properly serve Southeast Communities

The U.S. Forest Service released a draft version of the Tongass National Forest Management Plan on Monday, January 8th and will start the clock for the public to comment on that plan this Friday, January 12th. Last year, a federal court ruled that the Forest Service illegally misled the public during the development of its logging plan and ordered a revision of that illegal plan to correct the errors. Folks in Ketchikan and throughout Southeast Alaska hope the agency will take this opportunity to move away from the current timber industry dominated point of view to a more balanced approach serving all users of the Forest.

“The Tongass is a unique place where we all choose to live and work, and this Forest means so much to our communities beyond timber,” said Gregory Vickrey of the Tongass Conservation Society. “We play here. We commercial fish here. We live subsistently here. And our tourism industry thrives because of this unique Forest. The state of the Tongass directly affects all of these areas, and therefore our quality of life. A balanced new plan should enhance that.”

Many envision a plan that will keep roadless watersheds vital to salmon and deer intact, will protect important subsistence and fishing grounds like Gravina Island and the Cleveland Peninsula, and will direct more effort towards restoration. A truly balanced plan could achieve this by taking into account sound science, up-to-date economic information, and input from all stakeholders including tribes, communities, and residents.

The release of the draft Tongass Plan triggers a 90-day comment period when the public has a chance to react to the proposal. The plan offers 7 alternatives for management. These schemes include a proposal from the Southeast Conference that recommends a timber harvest larger than the timber harvested during peak pulp mill days on the Tongass. By going out of their way to include this alternative, the Forest Service is showing that its primary focus is on serving the needs of the timber industry rather than the needs of other important businesses, industries, and communities on the Tongass.

“We believe the public comments will demonstrate to the Forest Service that it is time for a new direction on the Tongass – a direction that serves our communities and residents directly and protects all our values, not solely timber,” said Vickrey. “Again, we are talking about our quality of life.” top^

December 29, 2006 - From Woodwire: Demand for Lumber Forecast to Decline in 07

After four consecutive years of record lumber consumption, demand for lumber fell in 2006 and is expected to slow further during 2007, according to a forecast by the Western Wood Products Association. A decrease in housing construction is expected to reduce lumber demand in 2006 by 3.2% to 61.9 billion board feet, compared to the all-time high of 63.9 billion feet recorded in 2005. The slide in demand will continue into 2007, with WWPA forecasting total lumber use at 57.1 billion feet, a decline of 7.2%. Slower housing markets are the key reason for the declines in lumber demand. top^

2006 News
Weyerhaeuser Casts Doubt on Ketchikan Veneer
Dec 12
House Votes to End Tongass Subsidy May 22
Sale of Public Lands Flawed and Unnecessary
May 2
Alaskans to challenge Emerald Bay
March 26
Forest Service Announces TLMP revision plan
March 22
USFS Continues a Losing Methodology
Feburary 23
State of Alaska signed two MOUs..
January 31
Alaska Ferrys January 16
Meyers Chuck and Emerald Bay
January 1


Tongass Conservation Society - P.O. Box 23377 - Ketchikan, Alaska 99901 - Phone/Fax: (907)225-3275 gregory@tongassconservation.org