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My turn: Juneau's 100-year forest

Posted: July 31, 2012 - 12:00am

The CBJ Assembly is charged with the wise utilization and management of boroughs assets, including natural, renewable resources, such as timber. The CBJ is 3,244 square miles, just over two million acres and it owns over 22,000 of those acres which are covered in second growth timber. At the turn of the 20th century Juneau’s timber was harvested for housing, boat building, firewood and the mining industry. That utilization of timber 100 years ago created our current second growth forest which is ripe for harvest given the information contained in the U.S. Forest Service’s new Tongass National Forest management plan. According to the U.S. Forest Service, they plan on transitioning what is left of Southeast Alaska’s timber industry to one that utilizes second growth timber that is sustainable and community scaled. The new U.S. Forest Service plan has been fully embraced by the environmental community such as the Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, SEACC and the Wilderness Society per their websites.

As a community, there are many benefits Juneau would accrue with a wise, second growth timber management plan. For starters, it would directly create upwards of 50 family wage jobs as harvesters and processors but would also create or support retail, transportation, medical and the all the other secondary community service providers. As the owner of the timber, the CBJ Treasury receive a new source of revenue that potentially could reach several million dollars a year offsetting the budget shortfall, funding amenities that Juneau wants or needs as demonstrated by the recent list of projects submitted for the one percent sales tax or reducing the tax burden on residents. A sustainable, community scaled timber management plan diversifies our economy making it stronger and more robust. A small mill creates opportunities for land owners to monetize the timber value of their property and creates a market for other timber as roads are built and transmission line corridors are cleared. Without a mill, the incidental timber that is harvested such as the timber that was cut extending electrical power to Eaglecrest or the more recent timber cut from widening Veterans Memorial Highway is not utilized to its highest and best use. A small scale timber processing facility would add to Juneau’s waste stream making an incinerator more feasible. A local source of quality lumber is a necessary basic necessity that adds value to the overall community’s economic health and long-term viability.

A second growth timber processing plant in Juneau that is sustainably scaled would not compete with Ketchikan or POW timber industry, but in fact may enhance their industry development. The CBJ Assembly has the opportunity to put Juneau in a leadership role, bringing in a new era to the Southeast timber industry by developing a second growth timber management plan for the borough and supporting a community scaled processing facility.

As stewards and responsible managers of community assets, developing a timber management plan is the right thing to do for current residents and those that will come a 100 years from now. Similar to the AJ Mine, the Assembly has a fiduciary duty to know the value of the boroughs timber and to regularly evaluate the financial and economic opportunities it represents. Juneau is fortunate to have the managers and scientists of the America’s largest forest as residents who can assist the borough in developing a timber management plan that maximizes the value of the timber for a wide variety of uses and users. The borough’s timber is ripe for harvest and it is obvious that there is both a financial and economic need to expand and diversify the local economy. I urge the CBJ Assembly to engage JEDC, the U.S. Forest Service and the environmental community to develop a responsible, long-term, and sustainable community scaled timber management plan that includes a processing facility within the boroughs boundary.

• Fluetsch is a registered investment advisor, community advocate and has lived in Juneau for 25 years.

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