Southeast Alaska's economy, not forest, is what's endangered

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2002

As federal Judge James Singleton ponders yet another injunction restricting logging in the Tongass, it's an appropriate time to put things into perspective. At issue this time around are 19 tracts of timber proposed by the U.S. Forest Service for harvest in remote areas of the Tongass.

Singleton issued a temporary injunction last March that shut down logging in the Tongass for almost two months. He exercised a very loose and subjective interpretation of the law, when he concluded that the U.S. Forest Service neglected to consider some roadless areas in the Tongass as potentially eligible for wilderness designation. His decision was reversed, but the damage he caused was profound.

According to the Resource Development Council, the basic profile of the nation's largest forest reads as follows: Total area

-- 17 million acres. Area designated for logging over the next 200 years -- 576,000 acres or less than 4 percent of total area. Percentage of old growth forest untouched over the course of 300 years -- 88 percent. Acres of timber harvested since 1909 -- 400,000 acres, less than 4 percent. Allowable annual harvest -- 267 million board feet. Number of board feet harvested in the

last fiscal year -- 47.8 million, the lowest in nearly 60 years. Number of jobs lost -- thousands. Economic impact -- in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Does this sound like a forest that's endangered? Quite the contrary; what's endangered in Southeast Alaska is the economy, communities, families, dignity and a way of life. The communities of Ketchikan, Wrangell, Craig, Petersburg and a number of others have all felt the impact. Aside from the loss of jobs directly related to timber, a great number of other jobs dependent upon revenues derived from logging and processing have been lost, along with tax revenues needed to support the infrastructure of Southeast communities. Southeast Alaska's barge companies have also suffered from the loss.

In the beginning, it was Southeast Alaska's abundant natural resources that rooted the small coastal towns in this beautiful and remote land. The environmental movement has shown little regard for the historical and cultural values of the Tongass region. No consideration has been given to the economic devastation that has resulted from a thoughtless final act of the Clinton-Gore administration in issuing the roadless rule. The roadless rule in effect usurped science-based management of federal lands to fulfill a strictly political ambition.

The Tongass has become a favorite rallying point for anti-development interests. It's not enough that logging has been reduced to a mere shadow of what it once was. Some activist organizations won't rest until logging in the Tongass is reduced to zero and only an exclusive few will even be allowed access to the forest.

In October, Jake Kreilick of the National Forest Protection Alliance (whoever they are) made the outlandish claim that the Tongass was the fourth most endangered forest in the nation. Kreilick is a self-professed monkeywrencher, international criminal, former director of the national Zero Cut campaign and member of the Ruckus Society, a group whose mission is to promote civil disobedience as a way to achieve its goals. Juneau was one stop for Kreilick on an well-orchestrated, whirlwind

tour to capture headlines and raise money for Earth First's "10 Most Endangered National Forests Campaign."

Kreilick, with the help of a number of local activists, was successful in capturing headlines in a series of staged media events and no doubt harvested more cash to keep the road show going. Fund-raising is what it's all about.

This sort of hyped-up grandstanding event exemplifies the extreme to which extremists are willing to go. The downside to this is that the tactics of the extreme side of the movement also taint the good work performed by the many moderate organizations in the environmental and conservation community.

Stewardship of the earth's resources is the responsibility of all. But the pendulum has swung way too far in the direction of

unreasonable restriction and regulation.

Sadly, even if Singleton permits logging in the designated areas to move forward, there may few bidders for the contracts. The timber industry in Southeast Alaska is on the verge of collapse.

Most of Southeast Alaska is in the hands of the federal government and most of this land is under permanent protection. The function of the U.S. Forest Service is to facilitate and supervise forestlands for multiple uses. The Forest Service is being prevented from doing its job. The Tongass Land Management Plan is designed to provide a solid balance between conservation and development. The TLMP is locked up and being challenged by people who have never set foot in the Tongass. Somewhere along the way we've forgotten that federal lands belong to all of us.

The Alaska gubernatorial election will be a turning point for Southeast Alaska's economic future. Voters should pay close attention to what the candidates have to say about their plans to rebuild Southeast Alaska's failing economy.

-- Juneau Empire

Jan. 6

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