Greenpeace receives cool reception in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) The Greenpeace ship Esperanza, anchored peacefully here in Gastineau Channel, has managed to stir up many in Southeast Alaska who still remember the heyday of the timber industry.

Greenpeace representatives have been touring the Panhandle to gather information on several pending timber sales and preach about the dangers of clearcutting the Tongass National Forest, the last remaining temperate rain forest.

The 236-foot Esperanza arrived in Juneau on Friday after a contentious stop in Ketchikan, a former logging town.

''We didn't expect certain communities to welcome us with open arms unequivocally,'' Greenpeace spokeswoman Nancy Hwa said.

The ship has been in Southeast Alaska since early August on what it calls its ''Endangered Forests, Endangered Freedoms'' campaign.

It coincides with the Bush administration's efforts to exempt the Tongass and the Chugach National Forest from the Clinton-era roadless rule.

The Forest Service is considering at least four timber sales in Southeast Alaska exempted by the roadless rule. Greenpeace activists have shot hundreds of hours of video footage of those areas, Hwa said.

Greenpeace activists maintain the Forest Service is targeting so-called ''big tree forests'' that contain thousands of acres of commercially valuable old-growth trees.

''We've come to Alaska because we don't want to see this unique place sold off to the highest bidder for short-term gain,'' said Greenpeace's Andrea Durbin at a recent press conference.

Despite assurances that they are here to gather research, some Alaskans are waiting for some type of flamboyant action from the group known for its civil disobedience protests.

In Ketchikan, where the ship was greeted by jeers from some residents, officials first denied the ship dock space and then passed a resolution urging businesses not to sell goods to the group. Hoonah, a Chichagof Island town of 860 people and two saw mills, passed a similar resolution.

''I think the fear comes from the past ... what they did in their past,'' said Hoonah Mayor Windy Skaflestad. ''Everybody stands their guard to protect what we've got.''

Greenpeace has also complained about the treatment it has received at the hands of federal officials, who detached a group of agents with the Federal Protective Service to be on hand while Greenpeace is in Southeast Alaska.

Greenpeace was last in Southeast Alaska in 1991 when the Rainbow Warrior was here documenting timber and military issues. There's been a more of an organized effort by the government this time to hamper its efforts, said Joel Stewart, the ship's captain.

''There's kind of a tradition here that a lot of Alaskans feel obligated to speak out against any conservation groups,'' Stewart said.

The group's presence has heightened resentment among some who remember the mid-1980s when the timber industry employed thousands. Now there are less than 600 timber-related jobs in Southeast Alaska.

''Their boat, the Esperanza, costs more than all of the sawmills in Alaska are worth,'' said Kirk Dahlstrom, a sawmill operator on Prince of Wales Island.

Forest Service officials are considering opening about 5,000 acres of timber in areas exempted by the roadless rule. It is unclear when the sales would occur.

There are about 5 million acres of commercial-sized old-growth trees in the 16.8 million Tongass, said Forest Service spokesman Dennis Neill. The forest plan calls for harvesting about 10 percent of that over the next century, Neill said.

Neill denied that the Forest Service is targeting the most valuable old-growth trees in its sales but said such trees are abundant within those areas.

''We've got billions of these trees. We're going to cut some, (but) we are going to leave most of them,'' Neill said.

Members of Greenpeace and the National Forest Protection Alliance said they would resort to nonviolent protest if the Bush administration opens the forest to industrial-scale logging.

The Greenpeace ship will be in Southeast Alaska until early September.

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