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Once upon a time — say the mid-1990s — mere mention of the U.S. Forest Service’s Tongass Land Management Plan here in Ketchikan could spark all manner of empassioned debate and, on the occasion, actual fisticuffs.
Because the Tongass plan guides federal management of the 17-million-acre national forest that encompasses much of Southeast Alaska. As such, the document drives the economic and environmental direction of the entire region.
The stakes were high, then, leading up to the 1997 revision of the Tongass Land Management Plan.
Environmental and pro-timber interests clashed again and again over every nuance and proposed change during the decade it took to complete the revised plan.
The changes that it contained effectively ended the era of big timber in Southeast Alaska, altering the economic landscape in ways that continue to be felt in Ketchikan and beyond.
With the timber industry a shadow of its former presence, development of the 2008 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan occurred with far less contention.
Now, perhaps few people are even aware that 2013 marks the fifth anniversary of the 2008 plan that continues to effectively govern the present and future uses of the Tongass National Forest.
The U.S. Forest Service is aware of that passage of time. Although not required to conduct a five-year review, Tongass Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole has launched a plan review “to gain greater insight into the forest plan and its implementation over the last five years, and to determine whether any actions at this time are needed to clarify or adjust the plan,” according to the agency.
The effort will include a review of the plan’s conservation strategy, and the preparation of a monitoring and evaluation report.
“Now, the (Tongass National) Forest is looking for feedback from the public on whether the plan is working as promised, or whether some changes are needed,” according to the agency.
The Forest Service is accepting public comment on the Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan through March 31.
Given the plan’s direct influence on Southeast Alaska, we encourage as many Southeast Alaskans as possible provide their views about it.
We also agree with Sen. Mark Begich’s recent letter asking U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to extend the comment period to June 30.
“With such an extensive impact on numerous uses and activities for individuals and communities throughout the forest, this report will and should be the subject of a broad and thoughtful public conversation,” Begich wrote.
We don’t know whether an extension will be granted. However, the public still has at least until March 31 to submit comments by mail, email, or in person during public meetings scheduled in various Southeast Alaska communities.
The Forest Service Tongass plan review meeting in Ketchikan will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.
The review meeting in Craig is set for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Craig Tribal Association Hall.
Written comments can be submitted by mail to: Tongass National Forest; TNF 5-Year Review; 648 Mission St.; Ketchikan, AK 99901.
Further information about the Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan, the review process, and how to submit comments, is available on the Tongass National Forest website at: www.fs.usda.gov/main/Tongass/landmanagement/planning.