The Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce's recent letter paints Ketchikan as a victim of changes in Tongass management. Whether or not we like it, the Tongass National Forest is a marginal player in the global timber market.
The Tongass share in that market has been sliding for years, and overall global markets are in the tank right now. Operators can hardly give away hemlock. Cedar, the only money-maker, is mostly exported and doesn't add up to local manufacturing jobs. None of us here in Southeast Alaska affect global market conditions or demand for Tongass timber. Louisiana Pacific closed its Ketchikan pulp mill in 1997 before Tongass land planning was complete. Changes in Tongass National Forest management aren't the culprit.
Ketchikan has gotten at least $26 million in federal money since the pulp mill closed. To date, Ketchikan has spent nearly all the money with limited economic success. Ketchikan did learn, however, that complaining about timber supply brings big money - and it seems that the Ketchikan chamber will continue to play that tune as long as it's profitable. At the same time, it will sacrifice the entrepreneurs and established businesses that more quietly support the region's economy. For an economic analysis on this approach, see "Playing the Sympathy Card" at http://seacc.org/Publications/SympathyCard.htm.
What happened to the can-do, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps attitude that used to be the Alaska hallmark? Take the lodge owners in Cholmondeley Sound on east Prince of Wales Island as an example of what the Ketchikan chamber should be supporting. These folks put millions of dollars into the Ketchikan economy every year. They hire their staff from Ketchikan, support local airlines, and buy supplies in Ketchikan. They live and raise families in Ketchikan. These folks work hard, and give back to Ketchikan. Despite their commitment to Ketchikan, a large timber sale threatens their livelihoods by proposing to log and road over drinking-water streams, and clear-cut scenery that guests pay to see.
In light of the hard-working folks in the Cholmondeley Sound area who face losing their livelihoods, the Ketchikan chamber's kind of posturing hurts real Alaska economic opportunities. Instead of dwelling in the past, the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce should support existing local small businesses and commit to helping them succeed.
Southeast Alaska Conservation Council