Tongass transition panel chafes at early deadline

Tongass Advisory Committee members discuss timber transition issues while audience members watch during a Jan. 20 meeting at Juneau's Aspen Hotel. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)
Tongass Advisory Committee members discuss timber transition issues while audience members watch during a Jan. 20 meeting at Juneau’s Aspen Hotel. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Members of the Tongass Advisory Committee are unhappy with U.S. Forest Service efforts to speed up their work.

The 15-person panel is meeting in Juneau this week to help plan a transition from old-growth to young- or second-growth timber harvests.

The committee’s charter calls for two years of work, which began in 2014. But members have been asked to provide at least partial recommendations by early March. That would likely be done at its Feb. 18-20 meeting in Petersburg.

Timber industry representative Wade Zammit says that’s not long enough.

“Given the amount of time invested by this group and the risks we’re taking in some of the discussions we’re having made me feel we’re going to push ourselves into a bad decision,” he says.

Wade Zammit, Tongass Advisory Committee
Tongass Advisory Committee industry representative Wade Zammit discusses forest transition issues during a Jan. 20 meeting at Juneau’s Aspen Hotel (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Zammit is the former president of Sealaska Corp.’s timber business.

In an interview before the meeting, the Forest Service’s Jason Anderson said the panel has the full amount of time to do its work. But he said it’s also been asked to develop recommendations for a larger Tongass management plan revision with an earlier deadline. And the committee accepted that challenge.

“There’s some delicate balancing between the two processes to make sure that the agency is poised to receive their recommendations in a timely way and be responsive to it and also for the committee to stay focused on the charter and achieve their objectives,” he said.

Zammit drafted a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack arguing against the earlier deadline. Vilsack oversees the Forest Service and told the agency to make the transition from old- to young-growth logging.

Other advisory committee members expressed general support for Zammit’s approach at the Juneau meeting. The letter is a document signed by individuals, not the group as a whole.

Zammit says the committee’s work is too important to compress.

“If we start time-driving some of these very critical discussions, we’re likely to put ourselves in corners and not come up with a good solution. And our goal with this group is to come up with a solution that has been eluding the Tongass for 40 years,” he said.

The panel is deliberating a number of recommendations during the Juneau meeting.

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