Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue, right, speaks at a town hall in Richland, Washington as part of his fourth “Back to Our Roots” tour this week. (Photo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is scheduled to visit Prince of Wales Island Thursday, July 5th along with Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Perdue is on four-state tour through Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska, meeting with farmers and foresters along with business and community leaders. It’s Perdue’s fourth “Back to Our Roots” tour since he took over the agriculture department a little over a year ago.

“One of the reasons we get out here is to look at the amazing things that Agriculture does all across this country,” Perdue said in a department video about the tours. “But really it’s mostly to hear from our customers and what we want to do is learn to serve you better.”

The Forest Service, which manages the nearly 17-million acre Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, is part of the Department of Agriculture. Perdue is a former farmer, state senator and governor of Georgia.

He’ll be in Klawock at the Prince of Wales Vocational and Trade School on Thursday at noon to meet with a team involved in planning Forest Service projects on Prince of Wales Island.

Later that afternoon he’s also scheduled to tour Viking Lumber in Klawock, one of the remaining mid-size sawmills in the region. Perdue will also visit young growth and old growth timber stands on the island and visit a small sawmill in Thorne Bay.

Congress is also working to pass an agriculture bill this year that could impact national forest land. That’s because Congressman Don Young was able to insert an Alaska exemption to the Clinton-era roadless rule in the House’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill. The roadless rule prohibits new road construction, reconstruction or logging on large undeveloped areas of national forest land across the U.S.

Timber companies and the state of Alaska have been seeking to exempt the Tongass to increase logging opportunities. The visitor industry and environmental organizations have been lobbying to keep the roadless rule in place.

The Senate’s version of the bill does not include the Alaska exemption and the House and Senate still need to reconcile the different bills.
Prior agriculture bills also authorized federal and state partnerships for logging on national forest land. Alaska’s first sale under that provision was a second growth offering on an island west of Prince of Wales last year.