Resource Development Council

RDC Testimony:
Commission on Federal Areas - Support of Sealaska Lands Bill

Testimony of Rick Rogers
February 22, 2013 Anchorage, AK
Testimony to Commission on Federal Areas

Chairman and members of the Commission, my name is Rick Rogers, Executive Director of the Resource Development Council. I am calling first to share some observations on the management practices that I have observed on Sealaska timberlands and then to express RDC’s strong support for the Sealaska lands bill.

RDC is a statewide membership-funded association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, timber, tourism, and fishing industries, as well as Alaska Native corporations, local communities, and organized labor.

By way of background, I am a certified forester having practiced forestry for State, University, Tribal and Native Corporation land owners throughout southeast and south-central Alaska since 1982 and served on the Alaska Board of Forestry from 2003 through 2009.

Last August, I accompanied more than 40 RDC board members from across all of these industries in visiting Sealaska’s timber and silvicultural operations on Prince of Wales Island. Dr. Mike Newton, renowned silviculturalist and professor emeritus from Oregon State University, showed us pre-commercially thinned harvest units that have now evolved into thriving second-growth forests. The professor has been helping Sealaska continually improve their forest stewardship, including conducting peer reviewed science on integrating habitat enhancement with second growth management. Deer browse and forest growth are enhanced by Sealaska’s thinning and pruning practices. Dr. Newton praised Sealaska’s stewardship and said “Sealaska Corporation is engaged in ecosystem management on a grand scale unmatched by any federal program.”

Sealaska has also engaged fisheries biologist Dr. Doug Martin who has led Sealaska’s efforts spanning decades to monitor the effects of Sealaska’s forest practices on stream habitat. While serving on the board of Forestry, I became very familiar with this peer-reviewed work done in collaboration with the US EPA, DEC, DFG and DNR. None of this could have been possible without leadership of Sealaska.

As a professional forester I can say without hesitation that Sealaska’s forest stewardship is a model for sustainability and best practices. Our Board was extremely impressed with Sealaska’s superb resource management and stewardship, as well as its commitment to serving its Alaska Native shareholders, and protecting fish and wildlife habitat.

Sealaska has invested over $19 million in planting, thinning, and pruning practices. The corporation has pre-commercially thinned over 44,000 acres and has hand planted over 8,760 acres. Sealaska’s modern silvicultural practices are an investment in the region’s future. These investments leverage the regional economic benefits of working forest acres by significantly increasing growth, yield and habitat.

For over 30 years, Sealaska’s logging operations have been a major pillar of the region’s timber industry and economy. Under the 7(i) provisions of ANCSA, Sealaska contributed over $310 million to other regional corporations, half of which is distributed to village corporations. The jobs in road building, logging, camp support, long shoring, air taxi and barge services, thinning and silviculture work are real contributors to Southeast economic opportunities.

The timber industry has been decimated by limits on federal timber supply. It is only on its last breath due to timber from State, mental health and Native corporation lands, predominantly Sealaska. Without new selection areas afforded under Sealaska’s land bill, what little remains of the industry will collapse. Once the economic benefits of these activities are lost it will be very difficult to gain them back. Capable logging and support contractors are already very difficult to find in the region, and I can tell you from personal experience, hard won markets, once lost, will be very difficult to win back.

Southeast Alaska land policies have lost any semblance of balance, and communities are declining in population and struggling to keep minimum enrollment to maintain schools. The Sealaska bill, while not a silver bullet, will allow some restoration of balance by allowing a small portion of the land base to be managed as a working forest to support communities. Sealaska has demonstrated its commitment to the highest forest management and stewardship practices. We think the land bill is a unique opportunity to stem the tide of declining opportunities in Southeast Alaska.

RDC urges the Commission to consider support of the Sealaska lands bill.