I live on Icy Strait. I know how precious the Tongass can be. My family and friends have spread before us a beautiful string of gem-like islands: the Porpoise Islands, Pleasant Island, Lemesurier Island and the Inians. All of them, in a special moment in Tongass National Forest management history, were recommended for and designated by Congress as wilderness. They remain lovely and pristine, though they are used intensively by Icy Strait inhabitants.
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What a pity that all such special places - such as Neka Bay, upper Tenakee Inlet, Ushk Bay, Port Houghton and others - which are dear to the people who cohabit with the forest, lack definitive protection. They are instead threatened by the proposed action in the draft management plan for the Tongass National Forest.
The draft management plan, which is open for comment until April 10, plays like an old record on a hand-cranked turntable. The proposed-action alternative that the Forest Service is plugging calls for a five-fold increase in logging over current rates, even though current timber-sale offerings are getting few or no takers. But sales would still be posted and new access roads would still be built in anticipation of sales that likely will never happen. Yes, it does defy logic.
The plan is undergirded by the same timber-first philosophy that brought on the mega-timber sales and the 50-year pulp contracts and automatic subsidies for yesteryear's' big mills. It is a throwback plan to a Paul Bunyan phase of extractive history that is past, and it is structured to take little account of real timber-market demands.
Furthermore, the proposed action disregards the multiple community uses in near-forest environs and previously designated special areas that support subsistence, commercial fisheries, local and tourist recreation, and associated businesses. These elements comprise the sum and substance of Southeast Alaska's special way of life. They depend utterly upon the health and protection of the remaining standing forest of the Tongass - including those special places, roadless and expansive enough to be self-regenerating.
Instead of taking advantage of the court decision, which mandated a new forest management plan and approach based on valid projections of market conditions, the Forest Service proposes to go backwards.
Both the forest management plan and the schedule of Forest Service community meetings can be found online.
William E. Brown
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