My Turn: Scapegoats vs. common ground

I appreciate our Governor’s attempt to persuade Southeast Alaskans that he truly cares about the hard working men and women who fish and work in the woods for a living. If he really cared he would have invested more time and energy to bring about results. Instead he chose a more divisive approach, pitting neighbors against each other and blaming the Federal Government. Leaders, who really want results, aren’t afraid to look at themselves and question what they can do differently. I don’t think Parnell wants results. For example he could have easily sought funding to help the small mill operators with their development needs, but instead conservation organizations have attempted to fill this critical gap.

Specifically, SEACC has promoted local wood producers through brochures, advertisements and trade shows. We work hand in hand with these amazing individuals. Many who call Southeast Alaska home share a real interest in finding a way to work together to find common solutions.

Let’s empower the region to work on common ground solutions. Of course, that would require the Governor to work with a broad range of stakeholders. To date he has chosen to narrow the range of voices providing him with policy advice through industry-oriented groups like the Timber Task Force. Instead he looks to the past and proposes extreme policy changes with little chance of success. A perfect example is the governor’s recent request to transfer two million acres out of the Tongass.

SEACC and many others are engaging in communities, rolling up our sleeves, and finding markets for new emerging niche products. We work with people like young Native artists who produce products but have little time to market them. Its slow work — just like farming — but you have to plant a few seeds and apply some elbow grease. We believe the ability to hunt, fish, and live off the land is the “spirit” of being an Alaskan and one that Parnell just doesn’t seem to get.

The inconvenient truth is that the timber industry has already cut the biggest and best old-growth forest on the Tongass. Current businesses are paying the price for the unsustainable practices of the past. Important conservation efforts to ensure balanced management on the Tongass have safeguarded valuable salmon watersheds and community breadbaskets. Visitors come here to enjoy Wilderness. These two industries — fishing and tourism — provide the vast majority of the non-government economic activity in Southeast Alaska.

The other truth is the Roadless rule does not restrict mining and hydro development. The Governor likes to blame others and is apparently unwilling to roll up his sleeves to get to real solutions around responsible energy development. A broad range of interests, including SEACC worked hard on the Southeast Alaska Integrated Resource Plan, a solid framework for moving renewable energy development forward. The plan clearly focused on meeting small village energy needs first. That’s a hard concept for our corporate-partner governor to embrace and he has taken no steps to implement the plan. He seems to care more about taking care of corporate profit then meeting Alaska’s needs.

SEACC anticipated the likelihood of more mining development in the region and is working with communities and mining developers to consider developing “Good Neighbor Agreements”. These can be powerful tools to allow communities a way of working with mine companies to ensure community interests get layered into the mix. The result might be less corporate profit and more investment in water quality and respect for cultural needs. Ironically, it was a former mining executive who first offered this approach. While we were unsuccessful with the Kensington, this approach may still work elsewhere. SEACC and others are exploring this option in Haines and Angoon.

So we believe there are other ways to get at the critical issues outlined in the Governor’s My Turn. This governor looks more interested in finding scapegoats rather than common ground. I hope he will reconsider his approach.

Lindsey Ketchel is executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

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