In its latest statement on the direction of the much-awaited Tongass transition, the Forest Service says the future is now for the Tongass National Forest. We couldn’t agree more, and we’re happy to see the agency working with local people to chart a course toward a more prosperous and sustainable future for Southeast Alaska communities.
But if local stakeholder consensus is the goal, the Forest Service’s decision to include industrial-scale old-growth timber sales like Big Thorne is off-target. The largest old-growth timber sale proposed on the Tongass since the 1990s, Big Thorne is a holdover from our boom-and-bust past, not an effective way to move forward with a sustainable, local timber economy.
True, Big Thorne will temporarily prop up the current export-driven industry for a few more years. But the sale does nothing for long-term economic sustainability and it will likely cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies. The vast majority of profits will be exported from our region along with Big Thorne’s 700-year-old round logs.
There is another way — a “locals-only” timber economy that creates long-term, local jobs producing local wood for local markets.
We invite Forrest Cole to join us in advancing a “Tongass transition” that focuses less on how much timber is cut and more on increasing the number of local jobs per log cut. This will directly support local community forestry efforts that are also compatible with commercial fishing, tourism and hunting. With documented changes in the global timber market and the high costs associated with our distance to markets, a timber model that relies on exports — of old or young growth — will never create a sustainable wood economy on the Tongass.
Sure, there are current market barriers to localizing Tongass forest jobs and ending export-based industrial logging, but these can be removed through shifting subsidies and engaging stakeholders in community-focused problem solving. Working with the state of Alaska to bring back in-region grade stamps for local lumber sales and developing structural design values for Alaskan lumber would be a good start.
If the Forest Service wants to support local jobs, they should put resources toward supporting a local wood economy. By sticking to smaller sales and popular “micro sales,” the Forest Service could spread logging out over many decades, providing a reliable and accessible supply of timber to local businesses that can’t afford mega-sales like Big Thorne.
SEACC is proactively working to support this transition to a local wood economy. We partner with regional organizations on community-scale forestry projects, and we promote local sawmills via our website, promotional videos and in our popular local mills print directory. We do this because we want to make it possible for our children and grandchildren to have family-wage timber jobs on the Tongass.
We are concerned that if Big Thorne goes ahead, local mills on Prince of Wales will see their sustainable timber supply get shipped right off the island for short-term profits. We hope that Forrest Cole, and the smart and experienced group of stakeholders in the Tongass Advisory Council, will prioritize sustainable, family-wage jobs on Prince of Wales, and leave industrial-scale old-growth timber sales like Big Thorne where they belong — in the past.
• Malena Marvin is the Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the largest grassroots citizen group advocating for the sustainable use of Tongass resources. SEACC submitted an application but was not invited to participate in the Tongass Advisory Committee.