FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: ROBERT DILLON (202) 224-6977
MARCH 4, 2009 or ANNE JOHNSON (202) 224-7875
MURKOWSKI AMENDMENT WOULD RESTORE TONGASS FUNDING
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Monday introduced an amendment to the omnibus spending bill to reinstate funding for the Tongass Timber Fund in the Department of Agriculture’s annual budget.
In 1980, Congress passed legislation that set aside 5.4 million acres of new wilderness in the Tongass National Forest under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). In exchange for the wilderness designation, Congress directed the Secretary of Agriculture to provide up to $40 million to support a timber sale program in the Tongass National Forest and to provide 450 million board feet of timber for sale annually.
“Congress made a long-term commitment to Southeast Alaska to support the timber industry and now it doesn’t want to live up to its end of the bargain,” Murkowski said. “This funding is vital for the survival of Southeast communities.”
While the program has never been fully implemented – the current U.S. Forest Service timber plan for the Tongass calls for the sale of just 100 million board feet – Congress has consistently provided $4 million to $5 million a year for the Timber Products program to prepare and sell timber from the Tongass National Forest. Until the House passed H.R. 1105 this past week, that is.
“I am concerned that this Congress is on the verge of stripping the $5 million in the Tongass Timber Fund without even having a conversation about it,” Murkowski said. “Funding for the Tongass has been approved by this body for the last 15 years, and now in the blink of an eye, in a conference with no input from the Alaska delegation, the Appropriations Committee stripped these important funds from the bill.”
“I would remind my fellow senators that Congress promised the people of Southeast Alaska a timber sale program of 450 million board feet per year and the Forest Service has reduced that volume in every iteration of the forest plan and every year in its budget request,” Murkowski said. “This body made a promise that it has never fully lived up to and now it’s trying to abdicate its responsibility to Southeast Alaska completely.”
The omnibus appropriations bill is currently on the Senate floor. Murkowski said she’s concerned that Majority Leader Harry Reid will move to limit changes to the bill by refusing to consider further amendments.
The original authorizing language to pay for development of timber sales from the Tongass National Forest with funding from the Forest Systems Account is included in section 705(a) of ANILCA.