My Turn: Take a look at the wild side

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sealaska Timber Corporation says again and again that they are good stewards of their lands and protectors of the environment. And they have produced a poll that says a majority of Southeast Alaska citizens support their land exchange bill. I do not know the specifics of the poll but a good poll would ask first, “have you seen their and other native corporations’ past logging practices?” If not, it would have been best, before you gave an answer, to take a look at what the native corporations have done to their lands. Also for comparison, take a look at the lands untouched by logging. To note a old clich¿, but a true one, seeing is believing. So take a look at the wild side and then compare it with the dark side.

On Admiralty Island you can see the wonders of Pack Creek, the grandeur of Mitchell Bay, Pybus Bay, and many other places. These places are the wild side. If you take a look at Cube Cove, Peanut Lake, Lake Kathleen, and Lake Florence, you will see the dark side. The land around the lakes has been skinned and cut beyond belief by a native corporation. These lakes were once the most popular recreation lakes on Admiralty Island. The lakes and Cube Cove could have been fantastic tourist centers if they had been managed as such.

On Chichagof Island you go to Port Frederick, a beautiful inlet with still calm waters that reflect the sky and clouds so well its hard to tell the real from the unreal. But just drive south or east of the village of Hoonah, on the seemingly endless miles of logging roads, and all you will see is the skinned landscape with unused rutted trees left on the ground.

On the mainland you can see the devastation done to Hobart Bay by Goldbelt Corporation. This place could also have been a good future site for tourism development. Not likely to happen now.

On Prince of Wales Island, and to the west of it, on Long Island and Dall Island, you can see some of the darkest of the dark. Long Island has one of the largest contiguous clear-cuts in America, only less then the clear cutting on Admiralty Island. The Dall and Long Islands were Southeast Alaska treasures. They had wonderful remote pristine beaches, and beautiful safe harbor fishing coves. They could have been good future sites for the native corporations. Now you cannot be on a beach without seeing a devastated landscape behind you. If you have not been there, or have not seen pictures of the places, there is a another way to see them. You can use Google Earth. Go to Dall Island, and then zoom in until you see Bushy Island, Westmill Rock, and Bay Islands on the map. Seeing is believing. On Prince of Wales Island, Google Craig, Klawock, and Thorne River, zoom in on them and take a look. Then do “Karta River,” the only piece of wilderness on North POW and a small piece at that. Then compare the dark side to the wild side.

So when you have seen native corporation’s logging practices, ask yourself, would you support Sealaska’s land exchange if they wanted a piece of land in your backyard? What if they picked Douglas Island to be logged? Would Juneau’s citizens support the land exchange? No doubt an outrage would happen if Sealaska was logging in Juneau’s backyard. Sealaska’s problem is no one wants them in their backyard, whether on POW or anywhere else in Southeast Alaska.

It is important to know that there is nothing in the Sealaska Land Exchange Bill that legislates a change in their logging practices. They can still do miles of contiguous clear cutting. They can export 100 percent of their logged trees to Asia, with no local processing. There are no old growth reserves to protect wildlife. They still have weak beach and stream buffers. The point I want to make is, Sealaska and other native corporations have not been good stewards of their lands, and so far there is no reason to think that this will change in the future. Sealaska needs to walk their talk by changing their logging practices, and I hope our governor, senators, and our congressman will agree with this also. Perhaps they should visit the wild side on POW and then look to the east, south, west, or north, and see the dark side.

• Rorick chairs the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club, is an a lternate member of the Tongass Future Round Table and speaks only for himself.

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