Empire editorial: The plight of Silver Bay Logging: A saga of politics posing as law

Posted: Sunday, February 09, 2003

As if Southeast Alaska hasn't weathered enough bad news on the economic front over the past few months with the closing of Wards Cove, trouble at Gateway Forest Products, and the depressed commercial fishing industry, one of the last remaining active logging companies in Southeast Alaska is in trouble.

Silver Bay Logging's filing for Chapter 11 reorganization with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court follows a 10-year struggle to sustain a predictable timber supply in a national forest beset by lawsuits, injunctions, delays and suspensions.

The well-funded legal maneuvers are being pushed by the Sierra Club and its legal strong-arm component, Earthjustice, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) and a host of other anti-development groups. A great portion of the millions of dollars devoted to tying up the court system comes from outside Alaska. The largest legal team in Earthjustice's army of lawyers is located here in Juneau.

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council was quick to gloat over the Silver Bay announcement. SEACC's Aurah Landau jumped on the news with a letter to the editor, taking a sad sort of satisfaction in the hardship suffered by a good company that 10 years ago provided employment for 500 people.

Her observations were laced with outlandish distortions in an attempt to diminish the status of Silver Bay's operations. Among a number of misrepresentations in her letter was the claim that "Silver Bay owns 16 timber sales, totaling over 60 million board feet." Forest Service records will show that 9 of the 16 sales she mentions have already been closed out. She also jaded the value of the employment base at SBL.

While it is true that SBL has been reduced to relying on a smaller number of seasonal employees, the company once provided hundreds of good-paying, skilled positions now lost in part as a result of the efforts of her own organization. Most of those skilled laborers along with thousands of others packed up their families and left Southeast Alaska.

The real bogeyman in this theater of the absurd is William Jefferson Clinton and his "roadless rule," aided by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - based in San Francisco - with U.S. District Judge James Singleton acting as a co-conspirator.

The 9th Circuit Court has become something of a laughing stock in the legal community as the most-reversed federal court in the United States. A 9th Circuit panel of judges made national headlines last summer when it ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because it contains the words "under God." The ruling was widely criticized and quickly overturned. A few months later the 9th Circuit made headlines when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned decisions made by the infamous judges of the 9th Circuit three times in a single day - a new record!

On Dec. 12 a three-member panel of the 9th Circuit lifted an injunction that suspended the Clinton administration's "roadless rule," which banned logging and road construction on a third of national forest lands. It is abundantly obvious that the 9th Circuit Court's ideology consistently falls outside the realm of mainstream America and it rests somewhere in outer space in terms of its relevance to Alaska and much of the Northwest.

In assessing the legal validity of the Clinton roadless rule, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge of Idaho - in a successful challenge to the rule - said, "it was hurried through the administrative process without informed debate." The roadless rule should be ushered out with the same haste and lack of process, however process and debate over the controversy have proliferated since its introduction.

Alaska's 57 million acres of wilderness-designated lands represents 62 percent of all designated wilderness in the United States. These lands are protected forever and it is more than enough.

Alaska's sovereignty is being challenged by environmental interests inside, but mostly outside Alaska who care nothing about the state's economy and only see our lands as a vast park in which we are allowed to dwell but not to use for anything except recreation. And even at that, the range of allowable recreational pursuits runs the perpetual risk of being constricted.

Silver Bay Logging has become the latest casualty of a feckless court system and politics that are aimed at marginalizing the autonomy of Alaskans to make decisions in the management of the state's vast resources.

Silver Bay will hopefully survive and the roadless rule will eventually meet its end. In the meantime there is another movement taking root in the West as communities that have been victimized by the anti-timber movement fight back and form strong coalitions.

The resolve of this movement is being manifested by those now being elected to lead in Congress and in state government throughout the West. Alaska has demonstrated its resolve with the landslide election of a governor who is a strong proponent of responsible resource development.

The last line of defense for sound, practical management of our national forests are the forest-dependent communities and local governmental subdivisions that owe their existence to a timber-based economy and have suffered the most at the hand of preservationist excesses.

Our federal government is most effective when it is responsible to local interests.

Gov. Murkowski needs the support of Alaskans to direct the Department of the Interior to prohibit wilderness reviews in Alaska without being specifically directed by an act of Congress.

The hard-fought compromises balancing preservation and multiple use provided for in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act are being threatened.

Make your voice heard. Ask for a prohibition of wilderness reviews that are not specifically directed by an Act of Congress. Write to: The Honorable Gale Norton, Secretary U.S. Dept. of the Interior 1849 C. Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240

Don Smith

dssmith@juneauempire.com

586-1428



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