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Aug. 19, 2002 Petersburg Pilot on Wilderness designation in the Tongass

Posted: Monday, August 26, 2002

It's time to stand up for the Tongass National Forest and tell the Forest Service that 6 million acres of wilderness designations within its boundaries is enough for everyone to enjoy.

It's time to tell the Forest Service and every extremist conservation campaign that calls for yet more wilderness to be created, that enough is enough.

Nowhere in their propaganda campaigns do they state that only 400,000 acres (or 2.4 percent) of the Tongass has been harvested since industrial harvesting began in the 1950's.

Each year approximately 800 million board feet of timber is lost to natural tree mortality in the Tongass. That's nearly four times the maximum annual harvest allowed under Tongass Land Management Plan.

Instead of presenting a truthful picture of the Tongass, anti-timber zealots push tired arguments that have not been updated since the 1970's. They state that logging and roadbuilding in the remaining roadless areas of the Tongass will jeopardize bear, wolf, eagle, deer, goats, birds and all five salmon species that reside in the national forest. Logic tells us that is simply not true.

Currently, the USFS plan calls for the harvest of 0.7 million acres (.25 million acres of second growth and .45 million acres of old growth). This harvest area has been selected from three million acres of non-wilderness areas of the Tongass. Fear not. The Forest Service will allow full protection of streams, beaches, old growth reserves, lakes and a lot of non-commercial forest. Even the critters are given due consideration in every harvest area the USFS manages.

The only thing that has been ignored in the USFS equation for the past decade is the logger and those commercial enterprises that support that industry. It's not the Forest Service's fault entirely. Politics more than science has ruled the Forest Service agenda for too long when it comes to managing the national forests.

Fortunately, a key issue being evaluated in the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is the question of the social and economic effect of Wilderness designation on the 32 communities, and the recreation, tourism, fishing, timber, mining and mining industries of Southeast Alaska.

The economy of Southeast Alaska and Petersburg specifically will depend upon how the Forest Service responds to this issue.

People are leaving Southeast Alaska because there are fewer and fewer jobs. As people leave, school enrollment drops, tax revenue decreases and eventually the private and public sectors pay the price for a government policy that has closed mills, shut down logging and damaged the economic health of every community in Southeast Alaska.

The Tongass is a 17-million acre resource that can provide wilderness, recreation and resource extraction opportunities that will benefit everyone.

It's time to speak up before more jobs are lost in Southeast Alaska.

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