Democrats are pushing for an investigation of a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) grant after reports that funds were funneled to a logging industry group as it lobbied to open up access to Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
Democrats say a grant from USFS to Alaska to help it prepare a draft environmental analysis of the proposed logging was improper given that the $2 million was designed to help communities prevent and suppress wildfires. The draft environmental analysis was released in October.
“The Tongass is our largest National Forest and is essential to addressing the climate crisis. It is critical that we ensure this taxpayer funded grant was properly awarded and used,” Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff MORE (D-Mich.) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General.
A September report from KTOO found that more than $200,000 of the grant was given to the Alaska Forest Association, a timber industry group.
Lawmakers argue that not only were the funds improperly used, but the state appears to have excluded groups that opposed opening up the forest to logging.
Critics told KTOO the way the grant was used was odd.
“The state has said, ‘Change the rule.’ And the federal government, which wrote the rule ... turns around and says, ‘Here’s $2 million to help you convince us to change the rule.’ And that’s just weird,” Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, a watchdog group, told the station.
The rule at stake is the so-called roadless rule, which established prohibitions on road construction and timber harvesting across 58.5 million acres of roadless lands in the National Forest System.
A judge has already temporarily blocked logging on 42,500 acres of temperate rainforest in Tongass National Forest.