HATS OFF – Sitka High School graduates toss their mortarboards in the air after receiving their degrees Monday night in the Sitka High gym. This year 74 seniors graduated in a ceremony that included addresses by teacher Howard Wayne and class representative Nai’a Nelson, a performance by the symphonic band and a video of graduates. A car parade was held after the ceremony. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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21 May 2024 14:07

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

Forest Service Sessions Seek Advice on Tongass

By GARLAND KENNEDY

Sentinel Staff Writer

With management policy on the Tongass undergoing major revision, the U.S. Forest Service is seeking input from Southeast Alaska on priorities in the future management of the nation’s largest national forest.

Listening sessions on the Forest Service’s Southeast Alaska Sustainable Strategy are being held today and will resume Saturday, at Centennial Hall.

“It’s a broad public engagement effort to fully involve our partners  – our tribal partners, our community members – in how we can develop a common vision and criteria that will drive a 10-year program of integrated forest management that sets the pace of what those priorities are within the forest. And that’ll lead into our Forest Plan revision,” Sitka District Ranger Eric Garner told the Sentinel on Thursday.

The Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan was last revised in 2016, though that document is itself a revision of a 2008 forest plan. The current planning is taking place in the wake of the Biden Administration’s ruling on Jan. 25 restoring the protections of the Roadless Rule to the Tongass.

The latest revision of the Tongass plan took place prior to Donald Trump’s actions to remove roadless protections during his four years as president. And yet the 2016 revision “is not as relevant as it could be,” Garner said. “So that’s why we’re ready to spruce it up. And this is a great segue to help us move into it.”

The current plan is posted at https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd527907.pdf. That document lays out many categories of forest management, from wilderness area and national monuments to wild and scenic rivers and fish habitat, as well as timber cutting.

As for timber harvest, in the 2016 plan Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack called for the Forest Service to “evaluate which lands will be available for timber harvest, especially young growth timber stands, which lands should be excluded, and additional opportunities to promote and speed transition to young growth management... (and to) continue to seek input from and work with stakeholders in the region towards this transition.” Vilsack is currently the secretary of agriculture but also held that post the Obama years, 2009-2017.

While the Forest Service is re-evaluating its old timber harvest policies, the new planning involves much more than timber harvest, Sitka District Ranger Garner said.

“The big transition is from large-scale old growth to diversifying with young growth, restoration and sustainable recreation opportunities… We’re also seeing recreation is a big financial component that probably wasn’t as prevalent 20 years ago. And so I think that’s been the big push and the big change,” he said. Garner said he expects the latest revision of the Tongass management plan will be years in the making, and hopes to hear a wide range of ideas at the two Sitka meetings.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity. We really want to hear from people on this,” he said. “I’ve never seen it in my 28 years of service, where we are all coming into this with open minds more than we ever have been in the past, and that we’re in this together. I think it’s a paradigm shift for us internally and I know it’s a paradigm shift for the community.”

Today’s meeting began at 1 p.m. and runs to 8 p.m., with a formal presentation between 5:30 and 6:15 p.m. On Saturday, the meeting will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the 45-minute presentation will begin at noon.

The meeting times are deliberately long, Garner noted, “so that folks don’t feel rushed.”

“We’re coming into this with an open mind and open heart to where we want to learn from our communities, and be in this together. So I think more than ever, it’s a shared stewardship model,” he said.

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20 YEARS AGO

May 2004

Dr. Arthur Cleveland, a former dean at Columbus State University in Georgia, was named the new president of Sheldon Jackson College, SJC officials announced today. He will be replacing C. Carlyle Haaland, who has held the position for four years.


50 YEARS AGO

May 1974

Coaching and managing the Little League teams this year are John Abbott and John Calhoun, ANB; Dale and DeWayne Vilandre, Alaska Federal; Walt Barker, Elks; Frank Simmons and Frank Vilandre, Lions; Leo Bacon, Pat Ness, Cliff Robards and Bob Edenso, Moose; and Everett Webb, Sportsmen. Head umpire is Carl Karpstein.

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