Ingrained in the psyche of many western legislators, including Alaska’s Congressional delegation, is the notion that federal regulations are too strict. If they could be circumvented by conveying Tongass National Forest lands to private interests or the state, industry would gain unfettered access to Tongass resources.
This was exactly the intent during a federal oversight hearing last fall, when a representative of the State of Alaska testified in support of a two million-acre state forest carved from the Tongass. It was a significant initial step toward a large-scale land grab. The testimony was intentionally distorted to paint a rosy picture of forest management under state jurisdiction versus federal. Fortunately, a thorough critique was provided to Congress which disproved the accuracy of the representative’s numerous assertions.
Predictably, Senator Murkowski, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recently introduced legislation loaded with a cornucopia of sweetheart resource deals. Five of these bills are detailed in the previous article, Federal Legislation. They include, for example, creation of an up to two million-acre state forest, transfer of 115,200 acres to form new Native corporations, and a currently, very controversial Mental Health Trust land exchange, all carved entirely from the Tongass.
These forest lands would be managed under the weak Alaska Forest Resources and Practices Act (FRPA). Unlike stronger federal regulations, under FRPA there is no consideration of cumulative impacts, especially troubling since there is no limit on the size of clearcuts. Moreover, there are no enforceable provisions for wildlife or its habitat, and less protection for fish streams than required on the national forest. Variances for logging within the stream buffers are routinely granted by the state under FRPA.
Notable provisions in the various bills explicitly exclude review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the cornerstone of public participation for federal actions and leaves open possible withdrawals from various Tongass conservation units like Old-Growth Reserves and Land Use Designation II (LUD II) areas, the latter which provide better habitat protection than LUD’s III and IV.