In May of 2010, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Chief of the Forest Service Tom Tidwell, and Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton announced an intent to “transition” the Tongass National Forest (TNF) away from a focus on old growth (OG) timber management to a focus on young growth (YG), restoration and stewardship, while also diversifying economic opportunities and creating jobs in renewable energy, mariculture, fishing and tourism. Alaska Forest Service leadership recently released an Intent Document that outlines how the TNF will begin transitioning over the next several years.
Given ecological, social, economic and political conditions, the transition to YG forest management will need to happen at a measured pace. The existing forest products industry itself will need to change and adapt as the Tongass NF timber program evolves. Significant work was conducted through the Tongass Futures Roundtable Framework Committee to identify watersheds and projects that may prove to be a less controversial source for OG volume.
As the TNF transitions to a different model of forest management, many interconnected parts will need to fall into place. New markets for YG products will need to be developed. A new, efficient YG and biomass infrastructure will need to be purchased and built. The YG resource will need time to mature and develop volume as well as value. Robust, stand level OG and YG inventories will be needed for the strategic planning of a successful transition. The remaining suitable and available OG will need to be managed and metered out on a sustainable basis for continued production of niche market products, such as trim/sash, music wood, and shakes.
The Forest Service is working from the assumption that the existing timber industry should be maintained and re-tooled during the transition period. Some reasons to maintain the industry include: 1) Maintaining the skills and capacity, as well as existing infrastructure, will be essential to implementing important forest management projects; 2) The experience and local knowledge of the industry is critical for a smooth transition; 3) Local industry jobs are essential for social and economic stability of some communities during the transition.
To initiate this new management direction, the TNF is working and planning projects through an integrated resource planning approach. This planning and work is outlined in the 2010 – 2014 Vegetative Management Schedule, and is being continued through the new 2013 – 2017 Tongass Integrated Plan. The schedule includes old growth and young growth timber projects, watershed and wildlife restoration projects, and engineering/road projects. This plan is ummarized in the Healthy Communities and a Healthy Forest: The Tongass Integrated Plan document.