We know what a national treasure the Tongass is because we live and work here.
The Tongass is our home: where we harvest so much of our food, and the base of our local economy. Like most people who have lived here for decades, I love this land as much as anything else.
I’m also a logger. My livelihood comes from harvesting old growth trees. I make wood bowls and furniture from salvaged old growth trees that either died of old age or blew over in winter storms. That’s the abundance of the Tongass National Forest.
I grew up in the era of industrial clear cut logging in the 1980s. Every year, up to 300 million board feet were exported on huge timber ships — headed overseas. When most of the easy and valuable timber was gone, the timber companies pulled out and jobs disappeared overnight.
I thought those days were over. I thought long-term thinking and common sense had finally prevailed. Millions of public comments supported a new direction through a lengthy public process that culminated in the current Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP).
But now Sen. Lisa Murkowski says we need to rip up this plan to move back to the dinosaur days of industrial scale clear-cutting. There is plenty of room to develop sustainable, ecologically sound timber harvest within the existing law. As Alaskans we are ready to help do that. But this move destroys trust that makes such efforts possible.
I’ve repeatedly left messages with Murkowski’s office saying: “Look, I’m a logger and woodworker, and I’m proof that there is a better direction for making jobs from old growth forests. If you want to be a part of solution, give me a call.”
I haven’t heard back from her.
Murkowski’s move would roll back real-world habitat protections that have been on the books since 2001. These remaining ancient forests are national treasures that belong to all Americans. Exporting raw materials from these public lands for a quick buck is a short-sighted vision that puts corporate profits above real Alaskan communities.
Over a million visitors come to the Tongass every year, supporting our local economy. These visitors want to see intact wild ecosystems — and this land belongs to them as much as it belongs to us.
Our salmon fisheries depend on functional watersheds supported by old growth forests and a healthy Tongass. There is great untapped potential in the Tongass for limited old growth harvesting. We can make guitars, furniture, wood bowls, and more with sustainably-managed forestry instead of loading ships headed overseas with 500-1,000 year-old trees.
I strongly encourage Murkowski to abandon her plan of ignoring years of local input and commonsense planning. This is our home. We have a Tongass Land Management Plan that already works for Alaskans and for all Americans that own this land.
We have the ability to create a locally-owned, responsible forest products industry that will provide long-term economic gains. We can support economic development by protecting our forests and making sure our fisheries remain healthy. That is true conservation. That is conservative.
• Zach LaPerriere is a professional woodworker and retired contractor in Sitka. He and his wife have three sons and live in a century-old cabin on the beach.