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My Turn: Recipe for disaster

Posted: October 21, 2012 - 11:01pm

The report of the Governor’s Timber Task Force is an unfortunate formula for disaster that will exacerbate conflict and distract Southeast from the hard work necessary to move forward together on timber issues. The unrealistic plan would remove over 2 million acres from the Tongass National Forest and with it federal protections for salmon streams and other habitat. The recommendations are based in confrontational politics and a misguided nostalgia for times past. The small group that made these recommendations was in no way representative of the diverse stakeholders of the Tongass. The report will fuel conflict over land management in Southeast Alaska, leading to a dangerous stalemate that will hurt the fishermen, hunters, tourism operators and others working on the Tongass today.

The report is infused with nostalgia for the days of large-scale old growth logging on the Tongass; a time when the Forest Service was controlled by the large pulp companies. A forest managed for the profit of foreign overseers made for a comfortable life for some. For others, like independent businesses, fishermen and sportsmen interested in clean water and good habitat, or Native people with an ancient relationship to this land, this influx of outside people and foreign money was not as welcome. The short lived success of the large-scale timber industry of the past was based on the ecological and social degradation of Southeast Alaska, and its mistakes should not be repeated.

The Timber Task Force was composed of people who walked away from participation in the Tongass Futures Roundtable, a multi-party collaborative group founded to deal with exactly the issues addressed by this Task Force. The Roundtable requires that people with differing views persuade and educate each other to come to a reasonable consensus. This is difficult and slow work. The people in this Task Force refused this challenge.

The Governor’s solution was to form a group of like-minded people anxious for a return to an unachievable past. The predominance of industrial representatives is as striking as the absence of rural community representatives, conservationists, Native voices, or independent scientific and policy advisors. Governor Parnell could take a lesson from former Governor Knowles, who in 1997, at the height of the downfall of the timber industry, established a timber task force that offered visionary and practical recommendations. This task force was made up of Southeast mayors, industry representatives, Sealaska, conservationists, and state and federal agencies. The recommendations made in 1997 provide a blueprint for a sustainable industry.

The failure of the Task Force to consider known objections to their proposals from powerful interest groups, both in and outside Alaska, has led to a set of radical recommendations that are obvious precursors to major conflicts with important and influential stakeholders, not least of which is the Federal government itself.

Unlike the Governor and his Task Force, we are serious about the future of Southeast Alaska. There will be a forest products industry that will sustainably coexist with our other major industries, but it will likely look much different than the past. It will be based on high value added local manufacture at a community scale, informed by collaboration with communities rather than imposed from above. It will rely on finding the maximum local employment per unit of wood cut rather than the export of minimally processed products. We believe that the quality of our wood and of the products local craftsmen make using this wood are world-class. This vision is compatible with Federal management of the National Forest, with preserving our quality of life as measured by maintaining traditional use and recreational opportunities, and with maintaining our world-renowned rainforest.

• Ketchel is the executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a regional environmental advocacy group active in timber issues for more than 40 years.

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