Tongass timber program: rational, economic transition needed.

Author:Graham, Owen

We need a rational, economic transition to a young-growth timber program on the Tongass.

Many private timberland owners use a net present value calculation to identify the optimal economic age to harvest their timber. Some long-term assumptions must be made to do the analysis--future interest rates, future timber values, future management costs, etc., but this is a good method of determining when to most profitably harvest private timber.

The issue is more complex on public lands, especially national forest lands. Public timber can be managed profitably to maximize timber harvest opportunities, and many State forests are managed this way, but our national forests must be managed in compliance with the laws and the intent of Congress.

The Forest Reserve Act of 1891 allowed the US President to set aside lands as national forests. In 1897, Congress passed the Forest Management Act, which specified the purpose of the reserves was to preserve a water supply, preserve the forests, and provide a continuous supply of timber "for the use and necessities of the citizens of the United States."

The Tongass National Forest was established in 1908, and by 1934 government foresters had completed the first growth and yield tables for the Tongass. These yield tables allowed foresters to measure the potential sustained-yield of timber from the forest, after which the agency began planning a timber sale program that would foster a permanent, year-round timber manufacturing economy for the people in Southeast Alaska.

The transition to young-growth harvesting has always been part of the timber sale program--it just takes time to get there. Initially the Forest Service planned to manage most of the better growing sites for timber production while still maintaining stream buffers, research areas, and a few wilderness reserves. Some of the timber mills in the Pacific Northwest viewed the Tongass as a potential wood-basket for their mills, but Southeast Alaska communities wanted the timber to remain in Alaska to support local timber manufacturing. The agency thus began selling timber with the stipulation that the timber be processed locally. The agency collected stumpage payments for the timber and used some of those receipts to insure prompt regeneration of the harvested areas. The Forest Service plan included a transition to young-growth after about one hundred years because that would maximize the growth potential of the land, which is a smart thing to do.


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