Spirit Walker Expeditions is a small Gustavus-owned kayak guiding company. Guiding trips in Southeast Alaska is a great pleasure and responsibility. The pleasure is in sharing the natural wonders of our area with people who really respond to what we get to enjoy all the time. The responsibility comes from knowing that the areas we visit and camp in are vulnerable to over use. The wildlife we delight in seeing is sensitive to our presence.
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My hope for Tongass' draft forest management plan, which is in a public comment period, is that the Forest Service will step up to its responsibility to manage the forest in a balanced way that protects habitat and promotes a sustainable economy.
Recreation and tourism contributes two out of every three dollars that comes in from forest uses, yet the Forest Service isn't investing enough in those programs. Right now, there are huge increases proposed to the day-use fees outfitter-guiding businesses pay - fee increases that would truly harm our small business.
In 2005, the Forest Service spent about $4 million on recreation while it spent more than $48 million to plan timber sales and roads in the Tongass. The Forest Service received less than $600,000 in timber sale receipts!
There are far more productive ways to use these resources. The Forest Service could offer smaller sales off the existing road system instead of building roads and offering large-scale timber sales in the last intact watersheds. Local operators can use these sales for the manufacture of quality products. Jobs could be created through a program of salmon-stream restoration and improving deer habitat through second-growth thinning.
In addition to the economic value of healthy watersheds, these areas also provide the foods that many of us enjoy. I gather berries and plants, hunt deer and barter for fish from the areas that I also have the pleasure of doing business in. I am nourished by the solitude and beauty of these special places.
We have an opportunity and responsibility to give the Forest Service our input on how we want the wild places that are so important for our businesses to be managed. The comment period deadline for the draft management plan is April 12. The Forest Service public participation Web site is at http://tongassfpadjust.net/FPA_PublicInv.htm.
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