The plan, published last Friday, will open new areas to timber harvesting and recreational use, without dramatically increasing the overall number of acres affected. As a result, it is expected to receive mixed reviews from both timber companies and conservation organizations.
The plan includes:
Opening more than 3 million acres for additional logging or development;
More access to the Juneau Icefield for recreation, primarily sled dog tours;
More old growth timber reserved (90,000 acres);
More land converted from mixed use to recreational (on Chichagoff Island, 43,000 acres at Tenakee Inlet; on Kupreanof Island, 18,000 acres east of Kake);
More land for mineral development (80,000 acres near Hyder and on Prince of Wales Island); and
Bostwick Inlet opened to semi-remote recreational use.
The Tongass is 16.77 million acres of hemlock, spruce, mountains, rivers and wildlife.
It is larger than and unlike any other rain forest on earth. And it is the largest forest in our National Forest System.
Of that, almost 6 millions acres is designated wilderness. Another 7.5 million acres is one form or another of protected recreational area. The remaining 3.4 million acres includes land for timber production and development.
Beyond the details of the plan, both the state and Forest Service herald it as a new more cooperative approach to managing the Tongass.
"What is not so obvious is the new partnership between the State of Alaska and the U.S. Forest Service that is foundational to this (plan)," said the cover letter to the plan, signed by Governor Sarah Palin and Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell.
"Above all, we want sustainability, of the Tongass and of Southeast Alaska's communities, in perpetuity. The Tongass National Forest is one of the few places left where people still live connected to the land and make their living surrounded by unparalleled abundance and wildness. We want to see it stay that way."
The new 10-year plan does not please interest groups entirely on either side.
Timber companies would like more freedom to harvest more of the forest's cedar, hemlock and spruce.
The plan allows for harvest of 2.67 billion board feet of lumber from the Tongass over the next 10 years. That's more than has been harvested in the last decade, far less than historical booms in timbering.
With fewer lumber mills now in Southeast communities, the overall economic impact of the timber industry is far less than it was a decade ago. But it is still a key component of the economy in communities like Ketchikan and Wrangell.
Preservation groups would like limited or no resource development at all, whether timbering or mining or land development.
About a million acres of the land being opened for development under the plan is currently road less, raising the concern that constructing logging roads will do additional harm beyond the timber harvest.
For a look at the entire 72-page plan online,see www.tongass-fpadjust.net.