Having read the letter to the editor on Sunday, Feb. 29 by Owen Graham, Alaska Forest Association spokesperson, I immediately thought of the old adage - repeat the lie often enough and it becomes the truth. Mr. Graham states that "timber sales make money unless you charge the timber program with the excess cost of endless NEPA studies, appeals and lawsuits."
For the record, U.S. Forest Service data shows that the agency spends less than half of 1 percent of its Tongass timber budget on appeals and litigation.
That small amount is, however, well-spent because appeals are how we ordinary citizens are able to make the Forest Service follow the laws of the nation and its own rules to ensure that timber sales don't unduly harm fishermen, hunters, recreational and subsistence users and wildlife.
Mr. Graham was also quoted in an article by Masha Herbst on the previous Sunday stating that "there is a huge demand for timber among mills in Southeast." Interestingly, there was recently a radio report on this very issue that gives a contrary version. One Hoonah mill said that it was not interested in the sale. Another small Hoonah mill said it could use 1 to 2 million board feet per year, but the Couverden sale was far too big to buy unless the prices set were bargain-basement. Silver Bay Logging in Wrangell said it is not really interested in the Couverden trees. Pacific Log and Lumber in Ketchikan said that it does not want to buy the sale.
Why this lack of interest? Couverden's low-quality hemlock trees are worth little and transportation costs are high. A sale only makes money if the mills can re-sell their products at a profit. Must we, as U.S. taxpayers, continue to subsidize losing timber sales in the Tongass? And why? Even the state of Alaska's economists say that global demand for Tongass timber is down and is not likely to rise soon. This sale at Couverden as proposed by the Forest Service is a loser, no two ways about it.
Mr. Graham should pay more attention to what the mills are saying. He is supposed to represent them, not the Forest Service and their outdated timber sale planning bureaucracy.
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