An Oct. 15 editorial challenged President Clinton to include the Tongass National Forest in Alaska in his new roadless-area proposal. The roadless plan assumes that many national forests have outdated plans that need to be brought up to date. That is not so for the Tongass.

The Tongass Land Management Plan was completed in 1997 with the approval of all interested parties, including this administration. The plan took 10 years and $13 million to put together. Under the plan, 83 percent of the Tongass is off limits to development. Under a unilateral administration revision to the plan that I believe is too extreme, more than 90 percent of all old-growth trees will be protected forever. Under that revision, only 300,000 new acres in the 17 million-acre Tongass could ever be subject to commercial timber operations.

How much is enough protection for extreme environmentalists and The Post? The Tongass in 1998 produced a little more than 100 million board feet -- one-fourth the amount of timber harvested in New York State in 1997 just for firewood. Is there no need for balance? No need to cull trees dead from the spruce bark beetle infestation? If the National Forest planning process is abrogated yet again, the law and the process of government are empty promises.

FRANK H. MURKOWSKI

U.S. Senator (R-Alaska)

Washington