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  Release No. 0288.10
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  USDA Pursues Jobs, Community Stability While Developing New Approach to Forest Management in Southeast Alaska
  Letter to Tongass Future Roundtable Highlights "Transition Framework" for Economic Development and Timber Harvesting Outside of Roadless Areas
 

WASHINGTON, May 26, 2010-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today joined with USDA Forest Service and Rural Development leaders, as well as partners in Southeast Alaska, to chart a new path forward in the region that enhances economic opportunities to communities while conserving the Tongass National Forest.

In a letter to the Tongass Future Roundtable, USDA is proposing a "Transition Framework" to provide jobs and community stability for Southeast Alaskan Communities. The Framework will include a series of potential economic development actions to stabilize communities in Southeast Alaska by providing jobs around forest restoration, renewable energy, tourism and recreation, subsistence, fisheries and mariculture. The letter also proposes a new approach to forest management on the Tongass National Forest that builds from the existing Tongass Land Management plan and will move timber harvesting into roaded, young growth areas and away from old-growth timber in roadless areas.

"This Administration is committed to developing a framework to help communities stabilize and grow new jobs," Vilsack said. "The path forward must lead to job creation while protecting old growth roadless areas, and the transitional framework announced today is a big step in the right direction."

"The Forest Service, in partnership with USDA Rural Development and the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration, is committed to finding solutions that put Southeast Alaskans back to work," said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "As part of the broader transition framework we will work to move away from old-growth harvests, toward young-growth management."

"USDA Rural Development is working through its state and area office, as well as here in Washington, to identify and promote sustainable ventures. Last year I traveled to Southeast Alaska for meetings designed to identify opportunities for residents to work together, with support from the government, to build a new, sustainable economy," Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Victor Vasquez said. "We support the Forest Service and will work in partnership to diversify the economy of the region."

"We believe it is possible to provide economic opportunity and jobs to our local residents and to sustain a viable timber industry while at the same time transitioning quickly away from timber harvesting in roadless areas and old-growth forests," said Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton. "The Forest Service will focus on a broader suite of opportunities the Tongass can provide to support the economy. Our overarching goal is to work with members of the communities to create jobs in Southeast Alaska."

Below is the letter sent to the Tongass Future Roundtable:

Dear Members of the Tongass Futures Roundtable,

The Tongass Futures Roundtable, the Forest Service and many in Southeast Alaska have been working to chart a path forward in the region that provides economic opportunities to communities while conserving the Tongass National Forest. The Forest Service believes that it is possible to provide economic opportunity and jobs to local residents and to sustain a viable timber industry while at the same time transitioning quickly away from timber harvesting in roadless areas and old-growth forests. Our overarching goal is to work with members of the communities to create jobs in Southeast Alaska.

This letter outlines steps that the agency believes can accomplish this goal. Most of the ideas in this letter are drawn from people and organizations in Southeast Alaska and will require continued input and support from TFR and local communities to be successful. This letter first outlines the results of our efforts to collect ideas from local residents through listening sessions, outlines the steps to develop an economic transition framework for Southeast Alaska, and then focuses on a new vision to forest management in the Tongass that builds from the existing Tongass Land Management Plan.

Regional Economic Development Opportunities

Last fall, USDA Forest Service and Rural Development representatives held a series of listening sessions throughout Southeast Alaska to hear from communities on how we could help improve the economic situation in the region.

As a result of those sessions, USDA is working to develop a "Transition Framework" program. The program will help communities transition to a more diversified economy by providing jobs around renewable energy, forest restoration, timber, tourism, subsistence, and fisheries and mariculture. USDA is joining with Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration to create the Transition Framework and a project implementation team. The team will work closely with communities and community members, as well as other federal agencies, state and local governments, tribes and tribal corporations, and the for-profit and non-profit sectors.

Our goal is to develop a region-wide job creation platform, with an emphasis on building upon current assets (e.g. workforce and natural resources) and current key economic sectors. We will also look realistically at emerging assets (e.g. through workforce training) and emerging economic clusters (e.g. mariculture). We will take a detailed account of the region's assets and resources and identify ways to promote economic development.

During the listening sessions, we compiled a list of project ideas brought forward by Southeast Alaska communities. The enclosed project idea list is an unfiltered record of those ideas. The Transition Framework project implementation team will use this list as a starting point; the team will evaluate these and other projects for potential implementation based on an assessment of feasibility, agency authority, community and partner support, and potential funding availability. The agencies expect to work with community members to identify and begin some "low-hanging fruit" projects this year.

Within the Transition Framework, we hope to:

  • promote small business creation, expansion and retention;
  • improve access to capital;
  • create quality jobs and sustainable economic growth;
  • promote job training and educational opportunities; and
  • maximize a forest restoration economy and by-product use.

Forest Management on the Tongass

We believe we can use the forest restoration vision espoused by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and USFS Chief Tom Tidwell on the Tongass National Forest to help put people to work. We hope to work with communities to build jobs around a fuller suite of goods and services to provide diversified jobs and community stability.

As part of the broader transition framework, the USFS will work with its USDA counterpart Rural Development to facilitate a transition of the forest sector away from old-growth harvests and to young growth. Moving towards a forest industry that relies on young growth timber will require a steady supply as the industry makes the transition. This can be accomplished by bridging the transition with long-term stewardship contracts in young growth areas to create investment certainty for forest operator business owners. We believe this transition can be made without entering into roadless areas. To demonstrate this in the near-term, the agency is currently working on a package of stewardship contracts. We expect the first such contract to be offered in early 2011. In the long-term, as young growth stands mature, the expectation is that all timber harvests will be sustained in young growth stands.

The Tongass National Forest is immediately implementing a host of changes to facilitate the transition to young growth, including:

  • Hiring a young growth coordinator and initiating a young growth survey on the Tongass to expedite the Forest Service's ability to offer economic projects in young growth areas;
  • Hiring a stewardship contract coordinator at the regional level to spearhead bringing training and new expertise to the region and increase the ability of the Forest Service to use long-term stewardship contracts to achieve restoration objectives; and
  • Initiating plans for three stewardship contracts to be developed and offered over the next 3 years.

Building from the existing Tongass Land Management Plan, the Forest Service will continue to offer a limited number of old-growth sales in the near-term in roaded forest areas, in order to ensure that a bridge exists for the remaining forest industry infrastructure to make the transition. Allowing these sales and the proposed stewardship contracts to move forward expeditiously is critically important to maintaining a robust forest industry while we transition to young growth.

Additionally, the Forest Service will focus on a broader suite of opportunities the Tongass can provide to support a diversified economy in Southeast Alaska, as described in the transition framework program above. Efforts will focus on creating restoration based jobs, restoring fish and deer habitat to support the fishing industry and subsistence users, and examining energy projects, including small hydroelectric projects and bioenergy, to provide lower cost energy and bring down the costs of doing business in Southeast Alaska. We will also invest in facilities, trails, and other activities to attract increased recreation and tourism use and jobs.

The Forest Service, Rural Development, and the Economic Development Administration look forward to working with the people and businesses of Southeast Alaska, and the local, State, Federal and Tribal governments and corporations that have a stake in the region's economy. We believe we can create a vital, sustainable economy that will provide jobs into the future.

Please take a look at these projects and consider the opportunities they provide. If you have ideas you would like to share concerning the Transition Framework, please don't hesitate to speak to your Forest Service District Ranger or Acting Deputy Regional Forester, Becky Nourse, at 907-228-6282.

Sincerely,

Beth G. Pendleton

Regional Forester

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