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Washington D.C.-Alaska Congressman Don Young offered the following statement at the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands hearing on draft legislation that would create a stable revenue source for rural communities through an increase in forest management receipts, in light of the pending expiration of the Secure Rural School Program:
“Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member Grijalva, thank you for holding a hearing on this important legislation, which would address an issue that is critical to many communities in my State. Also, I appreciate the opportunity you have afforded both Members and others to provide feedback on this draft.
Alaska is home to the nation’s two largest national forests. They used to provide many well paying jobs and steady revenue to the local economies in their regions, but due to an unstable and an almost nonexistent timber supply coming from the U.S. Forest Service, coupled with endless litigation from environmental groups, this is no longer the case.
Make no mistake; the Secure Rural Schools Program is critical to many of my communities. For example, this program provides 25% of the revenue to the Wrangell schools and 30% to Klawock. The list goes on.
As much as I support continuation of the Secure Rural Schools Program we must not treat this program as another entitlement. In this tough economic time, an increase in forest jobs, while also funding our communities is a real economic stimulus package we should all agree upon. These communities don’t want hand outs, they want to develop their resources and be self-sufficient, but the bottom line is, they need help and the Secure Rural Schools program can provide this help.
This is a good bill and I hope it becomes law. However, for it to work in Alaska, I believe a few changes should be made.
1) The USFS cannot be allowed to determine the harvest level for each unit of the Forest System.
In Alaska, the USFS has lowered the harvest level over 90% from nearly 500 million board feet to less than 50 million board feet a year. The USFS claims the problem is a lack of markets, but that is simply untrue. There is plenty of demand for Alaskan timber. It is a failure of leadership and vision that has caused this dramatic decrease. I believe Congress needs to set the harvest levels by statute in this bill.
At a minimum, the to-be-determined percentage of the average of historical receipts must be robust to provide areas like Region 10 with a required harvest level high enough to support an industry and our rural schools. Over the 21 year period covered in this legislation (1980-2000), the annual historical harvest was 251 mmbf annually at a net stumpage of roughly $15 million. Even if the to-be-determined percentage of the average of historical receipts was 100%, it would still not equal the amount that Alaska currently receives under the Program. The current Tongass Land Management Plan plans for 267 mmbf annually. However, from 2001 to 2010, the USFS sold an average of only 38 mmbf annually. The need for hard targets is evident.
2) A stronger waiver of federal judicial review must be included.
The courts have been home court for extreme environmental groups to obstruct and defeat clear congressional policy. These courts have tied up federal timber sales throughout the country. The Committee must act not only to prevent judicial review, but must also amend and possibly eliminate the environmental report section of the bill. If the Agency doesn’t complete this review in 180 days, can the timber sale continue?
3) In Alaska, we have a further problem. Roadless.
The Federal District Court overturned a settlement that found that the Roadless Rule does not apply to Alaska. Now, on over 92% of forests in Alaska, the Roadless Rule applies. Since Section 105(3)(B) excludes any USFS land on which vegetation removal is prohibited by federal law, I fear this would take roadless out of the available pool and effectively void this bill’s impacts in Alaska.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you and your staff for putting together a fine bill that seeks an outside-the-box solution to funding the Secure Schools Program and seeks to strengthen the economic situations in our rural communities. I look forward to working with you on a final bill to ensure that Alaska’s students aren’t left behind.
I urge this Committee to pass this bill so we can put Americans back to work and save our rural schools and economies.
Source: Office of Representaticve Young