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My Turn: There's more to the Tongass than making money

Posted: May 30, 2011 - 6:51pm

It is 6:30 a.m. on Kuiu Island in a small, quiet bay. I am listening for the sounds of wolves that are member of what I call the “Rowan pack” because there is no official, scientific name for this wolf pack-but I know from seven years of seasons spent on this remote island that there are at least 14 individual wolves in this pack, and they can be found on the north side of this bay early in the morning. I have been seeing them here for almost a decade. Later this day, I will drive north on old forest roads, looking for pine marten (members of the weasel family) that are disappearing from this island. I have spent years trying to understand why they are disappearing, and we still have no answers.

Some islands on the Tongass are home to elusive, distinct flying squirrels. Some islands are home to a rare form of spruce grouse.

Still others provide home territories for short-tailed weasels, long-tailed voles, goshawks, and salmon. Last year, scientists discovered that mountain goats on Baranof Island may be relict populations from the ice age, separated from their mainland relatives for over 15,000 years. Every time I land a kayak on a beach, hike into the forest, or pick berries in a clearcut, I learn something new about the Tongass National Forest.

In the past several weeks, and in the coming months, people with very little connection to the land have made and will make very large, very broad-based decisions regarding the Tongass National Forest and the incredibly diverse islands of southeast Alaska.

We will hear about economy, money, jobs, timber production, land claims, and special interests. But what is tangible? This place, southeast Alaska, is one of the last places in the world with all five species of salmon running up its rivers. It is home to some of the best steelhead fishing in North America.

It is home to islands with greater densities of black bears and brown bears than anywhere else in North America. It is home to the rare Pacific marten, a small weasel species dominant on only a few islands in the entire region. A walk in the woods on north Prince of Wales may provide the hiker a glimpse of a coastal wolf, a small wolf found only in southeast Alaska and coastal British Columbia.

It is unfortunate that corporate entities under the guise of Native interests will forgo the opportunity for these tangible experiences in America’s only rainforest for the opportunity to make money on non-existent, heavily subsidized logging practices in remaining old-growth forests. I wish that their motivations came from experiences walking in the rainforest, rather than money. I wish that they could sit with me on the north side of the bay at 6:30 in the morning, in the pouring rain, listening for the 14 wolves of the Rowan Bay pack.

• Dawson is a biologist and an Anchorage resident.

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