My neighbor recently asked why conservationists were advocating for a new direction on the Tongass in the 2007 forest plan amendment. I gave him the usual answers: We believe important community-use areas on the Tongass deserve protection; we support small timber operators with a high-value product; and research demonstrates that the remaining big tree forests are the biological heart of ecosystems.
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But that did not satisfy my neighbor. He asked, "What are your real motivations?" I thought about it and answered, "Honeymoon Creek."
The Honeymoon and King George watersheds are large valleys on the north end of Etolin Island. These drainages contained some of the largest remaining stands of trees on the Wrangell District before they were sold as the King George Sale in 1997. The company that was awarded the bid for the sale filed for bankruptcy in 2003 after taking the most valuable 19 million of the 24 million board feet from the sale, breaching its contract with the Forest Service. This took place despite five separate market-related contract term adjustments that were requested by and granted to the company. Around 5 million board feet of timber was left in the sale units, two million of which was cut and is still rotting on the ground today.
This timber was repackaged into the Red Mountain Sale, and resold to only one bidder in 2006 - Alcan Forest Products. Export waivers were granted for 100 percent of the logs. Whenever the rest of the overseas-bound logs are cut from the watershed, it will be done without any local processing jobs, and based on National Environmental Protection Act monitoring work that is more than 12 years old.
I have grown weary of blame being cast on conservationists for a downsizing timber industry. Yesterday's management and today's economics are the realities of that evolution. Every time I look out my window to Honeymoon Creek, I am reminded that large-scale Tongass timber projects based on the same logic as the aforementioned sales are in the pipeline.
It's time to urge the Forest Service to shift its budget priorities so that small, sustainable timber mills can function alongside a diverse, community-based economy. Protection for critical habit and community-use areas on the Tongass would be a sensible part of the revision as well. I am planning on getting my input into the plan's public comments. I hope my neighbors will too.
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