Low demand accounts for industry woes

Letter to the editor

Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2004

George Woodbury spins a story about the timber industry in his latest letter ("Why timber sales were canceled," Jan. 15) that leaves out some important facts. Mr. Woodbury argues that timber companies haven't been cutting as many trees because the timber sales offered by the Forest Service are unaffordable.

So why are the timber sales unaffordable? The state of Alaska's own economists gave us the answers in last month's Alaska Economic Trends, a publication of the state's Department of Labor. The Trends article discussed how decreasing global demand has driven down Tongass timber prices and how our best customer in the past, Japan, is now buying from other countries. The report also found that increasingly tree farms are driving timber down prices by saturating world timber markets in much the same way that salmon farms have driven down prices by glutting the salmon market. These are the factors making it so difficult for local timber operators to make a profit.

Who should bear the costs of logging on the Tongass when our old-growth spruce is being sold for just pennies a board foot? Should the costs for building roads properly to protect salmon streams or the costs of helicopter logging to safeguard deer habitat be borne by taxpayers, as Mr. Woodbury would prefer, or should the timber operators pay the full costs of logging public trees on public lands? In reality, taxpayers have been subsidizing Tongass logging for years - to the tune of, on average, $35 million annually. We are now being asked to dig deeper into our pockets to make timber sales "more affordable" in the face of changing world markets that no longer want high-cost Tongass timber.

Without a strong market, cheaper timber sales won't bring back Southeast's timber industry. And it makes no sense for the taxpayers to subsidize timber sales simply to keep a moribund industry alive because - as biologists, economists, fishermen, hunters, hikers and other forest users have been telling us for years - these trees are more valuable standing.

Russell Heath

Executive Director

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council

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