Trump Admin. Plan for the Tongass

NY Times today:

The United States Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture, is scheduled on Friday to publish an environmental study concluding that lifting the roadless rule protections in the Tongass would not significantly harm the environment. That study will allow the agency to formally lift the rule in the Tongass within the next 30 days, clearing the way for the Trump administration to propose timber sales and road construction projects in the forest as soon as the end of this year.

USFS press release is here. Not much info there.

USFS documentation is here.


17 thoughts on “Trump Admin. Plan for the Tongass”

  1. My guess is that the Rule will be litigated and possibly enjoined. Litigation will be protracted and either no projects will go forward due to the injunction, or they too will be litigated. A new Admin won’t defend it.. end of story.
    I’d say “clearing the way for the Trump administration to propose timber sales and road construction projects in the forest as soon as the end of this year” is highly unlikely.

    The FS folks had some creative ideas for a statewide rule (that approach having been successful in Idaho and Colorado) but perhaps all to naught. As I used to say about planning and rule-writing work, “the pay’s the same” and “if you’re not the lead mule, the scenery never changes.” Nevertheless, anyone who did this work, I, for one, appreciate it.

  2. See also:

    Forest Service’s Plan to Allow More Roads and Timber Sales in the Tongass Will Cost Taxpayers

    Washington, DC – Today the U.S. Forest Service released its rule to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the national 2001 Roadless Rule. In the final stage of its current rulemaking process, the Forest Service finalized its preferred alternative to fully exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, opening up millions of acres to road building and logging in the nation’s largest national forest.

    “Exempting the nation’s largest national forest from the Roadless Rule will carry a hefty price tag for taxpayers across the country. The new U.S. Forest Service proposal is nothing more than an unjustified giveaway to the timber industry at taxpayers’ expense,” said Autumn Hanna vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

    The new rule opens up several million acres of the Tongass National Forest to timber sales which historically have returned only a few pennies on each dollar expended. Under the Forest Service’s management, taxpayers have lost money on virtually every Tongass timber sale since the 1980s. Taxpayers for Common Sense calculated these losses in a new report released this August that found the Forest Service lost more than $1.7 billion while “selling” Tongass timber since 1980.

    The Forest Service has been able to use the Roadless Rule’s flexibility to approve more than 50 projects in roadless areas in the Tongass, from mining operations to aerial trams. Nationally, savings from the Roadless Rule has reduced the Forest Service’s road maintenance backlog from $8.4 billion in 2000 to $3.4 billion in 2019.

    In support of the Roadless repeal, the Forest Service published a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed rule last October. Neither the costs nor the benefits side of the ledger was accurate, however, according to the budget watchdog group. The analysis neglected to include several costs like increased losses from timber sales and increased road costs. The omission was notable given that in the new analysis, the Forest Service projects more than a 1,000 additional miles of roads in roadless areas over the next century. The mistakes were compounded by shoddy math that overstated the benefits presented by nearly seven times. These combined errors obscured the fact that existing Roadless protections save taxpayers money.

    In addition to reducing taxpayer costs, Tongass roadless areas provide economic benefits for fish and wildlife. Tourism and commercial fisheries make up approximately 25% of regional employment and are both directly dependent upon the protected roadless areas of the Tongass.

    “Removal of the roadless rule in the Tongass is shortsighted and unnecessary. Heavily subsidized timber sales will expand and lock in taxpayer losses for many years to come. The country is in an economic crisis and repealing a rule that has saved taxpayers billions of dollars in road maintenance and liabilities is just plain fiscally reckless,” concluded Hanna.


    ABOUT: Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) is a nonpartisan budget watchdog that has served as an independent voice for the American taxpayer since 1995. TCS works to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and that government operates within its means.

      • Hanna’s fiscal concern (the Forest Service spends more money on Tongass sale preparation, administration, and logging road construction than it receives in purchaser payments) has been chronic since the 1950s. Some day the Alaska delegation will lose its seniority clout in Congress (Don Young won’t be there forever although sometimes it feels that way) and the Forest Service will right size the Tongass timber budget, regardless of roadless rule status.

        • Andy, you’ve been watching this a long time.. I thought there was some “second growth only” effort… is that also at an economic loss?

          • No one wants to buy Tongass second growth at any price > $0. I suppose the FS could call it “fuel treatments” and pay loggers to remove the worthless wood. Pile it on the beach and see if anyone wants to cut it up into firewood (true story).

  3. Note that this has been a banner month for Forest Service plans to promote logging on the Tongass.

    In addition to the Final EIS opening roadless area to logging, discussed above, the Tongass NF commenced scoping on the Twin Mountain II timber sale – with 3,000 acres of old-growth logging proposed.

    And the agency also issued a draft EIS for the South Revilla timber sale – proposing 5,000 acres of old-growth logging (although all of the alternatives analyzed would lose money).

    Conservation groups are likely to keep a close watch on all of these proposal, given the high value of intact old growth forest as wildlife habitat and carbon sink.

    • Ted, if I’m not mistaken, scoping is unlikely to lead to anything before Jan 1.
      Similarly a DEIS with a (90?) day comment period.

      Here’s my two potential paths…Biden wins, doesn’t change the projects, but they die a lingering litigatory death..
      Trump wins, people have much more to worry about than two timber sales in Alaska, and litigation drags on.
      Either way, perhaps the President matters less in this than the litigation, as long as Congress allocates $ to timber sales.

    • I wonder where all this old growth might go. Can they export off the Tongass?
      The FS should not loss money on their timber sales. The only reasons I can think of is to very high administrative costs and lack of competition . I know anyone else would figure out how to make a profit.

      • Yes, the Tongass enjoys a special regulatory exemption that allows log exports to Asia. Most of the Tongass old-growth cut goes overseas for processing.

        • I thought so. Unfortunately export logs are often the highest value for the timber and maybe in Alaska the only market. I know that many second and third growth logs are exported also. I think it is important to realize we have to export something to pay for all the things we import.
          I have exported logs but think it a good idea to ban the export of unprocessed timber.

  4. I’ve been personally involved in Tongass for the past several years – one of those leading “second growth only” effort referred to by Sharon above. There is basically an endless supply on old clearcuts. I dispute Andy’s view that 2nd growth will “not be purchased at any price” – some small sales have actually had competitive bidding. Our effort was predicated on a proposal to test 2nd growth efficacy by installing a temporary HewSaw mill, and try to achieve value added manufacture and test markets. Alas, we were blunted at every turn by, yes, the FS itself, even though OMB created funding for the project. Too long a story for here, but even during the Obama years, FS displayed what I consider professional malfeasance. All things being equal, if SE Alaska is to have a timber industry, even subsidized, I’d prefer they focus on logging previously logged and roaded 2nd growth than remaining ecologically and economically costly old-growth.

    • For the foreseeable future, China will out-compete Alaskan mills for Tongass timber, especially second-growth timber. Do the American people want our nation’s largest national forest to become a woodlot for China’s sawmills? Since the 1950s, Tongass old-growth was cut, processed domestically into dissolving pulp, which was then exported to Japan to make rayon. Today, the Alaska middle-man mill has been eliminated. Most southeast Alaska timber (Tongass NF and native corporation) is exported as unprocessed logs to China.

      • Andy,

        It seems like China is a major trading partner, including ag exports
        It’s an interesting idea that material produced from federal land should not be exported.

        I’m definitely not a trade expert, but does that also mean animal products from public land grazing, energy from solar/wind/oil and gas/coal, mining, and so on?
        Perhaps international folks should not be able to recreate, say at ski areas?

        When I read this.. (I was interested due to the “interest groups I’ve never heard of weighing in” factor)
        “Our leaders must recognize this opportunity to assert our power over China by not enabling them to destroy more of our lands for their profit,” the letter says, adding that the administration should protect Tongass “to thwart the insidious efforts of China and promote American prosperity.”

        So if people log trees it’s “destroying our lands” for “their profit” really? … what’s next – conceivably all agriculture has environmental impacts.. as does almost every human activity.

        As to Citizens for the Republic, it has had an interesting history but doesn’t look like it’s currently active.

        I wonder why it seems to have resurrected with interest in the Tongass?

  5. Agree right down the line, Andy. Alaska Cong delegation has succeeded in carving out “special privileges” for SE timber industry for many decades. In the face of that reality, I’m simply arguing for a more sane approach that leaves OG and roadless areas out of the equation. Timber industry is no longer “essential” as witnessed by the fact that 90% plus is already gone. If you MUST subsidize, use 2nd growth.

  6. Sharon: Limitations on log exports are a direct result of concerns from the late 1980s, largely about sustaining domestic employment and timber industry’s propensity to export logs from their pvt lands rather than provide primary manufacture. This was contributing directly to “supply shortages” and looking to federal lands to fill the breach. Thus, Congress required federal timber to be processed domestically and to prohibit exports. One crafty industry “work around” was to remove two slabs from a log, and then ship it, as observed personally by me from ports like Coos Bay. Because of the difficulties this created for Alaska, Congress also created a compensatory “carve out” for their federal timber. That’s where we are today, except accounting for recently established tariffs that make it even more difficult for Alaska industry.


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