Native corporation wants to use herbicides on Long Island

Posted: Friday, November 29, 2002

ANCHORAGE -- A plan to spray herbicides on Long Island in Southeast has reignited old animosity between the Haida and Klukwan tribes.

Klukwan Inc.'s plan also has sparked an outcry from a neighboring island.

The Alaska Native corporation has moved a step closer to getting state permission to spray nearly 2,000 acres of clear-cuts with Accord and Arsenal. Those herbicides promote the growth of money trees -- Sitka spruce and western hemlock -- by stunting red alder and salmonberry, considered weeds by loggers.

Officials with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation issued a draft proposal this week expected to lead to a permit allowing Klukwan to aerial spray part of the island next August. The draft regulation would apply not only to Klukwan but to any company wanting to spray clear-cuts. The public has until Jan. 13 to comment.

Klukwan's herbicide proposal has created a storm of controversy on Prince of Wales Island, a short distance northeast of Long Island, where many Haida live. Tribal officials in the villages of Hydaburg, Kasaan, Craig and Klawock have adopted resolutions opposing the spraying.

Long Island, in the southernmost tip of Alaska, is Haida country. The island, 14 miles long by 7 miles wide, once produced some of the biggest trees in Alaska, but it has been heavily clear-cut by Klukwan. Two historic village sites remain, and Haida ancestors are buried on the island. The coastal tribe has used the island for fishing, deer hunting, seaweed collection and berry picking for generations.

But the Haida lost the island to Klukwan, a village 300 miles north, under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

Despite Klukwan's assurances that the herbicides are safe, the Haida worry that their food supply will be tainted.

''We gather about 70 percent of what we consume'' and much of it comes from Long Island, said Cherilyn Holter, the tribe's environmental planner in Hydaburg. ''There's been no proof that this isn't harmful.''

Holter has pledged to organize a protest on Long Island if the DEC grants the spray permit.

''We will not allow this to happen,'' Holter told the Anchorage Daily News.

Mike Newton, a consultant for Klukwan and a professor emeritus of forest ecology at Oregon State University, said he residents' concerns are unfounded. He said coffee and table salt are more toxic than glyphosate and imazapyr, the primary chemicals in the two herbicides Klukwan proposes to use.

''We have done experiments that expose animals by injection to extremely high doses of glyphosate. They tolerate this very well. Lab animals, wildlife and people are in the general range of low susceptibility and high tolerance to these types of materials. By comparison, caffeine is over 25 times as toxic,'' said Newton, who has led research on herbicides and reforestation for several decades.

Jim Tuttle, Klukwan's chief forester, said logging companies have successfully used the two herbicides for years in Oregon and Washington and have sprayed hundreds of thousands of acres.

''We went through this in the '60s and '70s,'' said Tuttle, who grew up in Oregon. Some chemicals were banned and others were deemed safe, he said.

Pam Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, said the residents of Hydaburg and other people who gather subsistence foods on Long Island have legitimate concerns. Peer-reviewed studies have linked glyphosate and imazapyr with serious and chronic ecological and health effects, she said.

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