In an interview in the Missoula (Mont.) Independent, recently retired Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth spoke about the "eras" the Forest Service has gone through in the United States.
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He said, "(The) early '60s through the '80s was the timber era for the Forest Service. Then the '90s were kind of a transition. ... We came out of that transition and moved into an era of restoration and outdoor recreation.
"The big difference is the kind of timber harvest we do today is focused more on thinning and other purposes rather than just producing wood fiber and creating jobs. Its purposes are more focused on improvement of the stand conditions. The Forest Service will still continue to sell timber, but it's going to be at a much, much lower level than it was back during the timber era."
As I look at the proposed management plan revision for the Tongass, it seems the decision makers in the Tongass are still living in the late '80s, well behind the rest of the nation's National Forests. While I do not at all advocate closing our forest to logging, the harvest volumes proposed in the preferred alternative far exceed those that have been logged in recent years.
Much more importantly, they exceed the capacity of the forest to sustain its ecological functions and support important human needs and economies. These include commercial fishing (the forest and its streams are a critical component of this life-blood industry for Southeast Alaska), tourism, hunting, sportfishing and, for many of us who live in remote areas, our subsistence lifestyle.
Planners and decision makers in the Tongass should get in line with the rest of the nation as they devise a Tongass land management plan that provides for a healthy small-scale timber industry, but also for the other needs of Southeast Alaskans. They should look hard at the potential for second-growth trees to replace old growth in meeting small industry needs. Their plan should support increased recreational use of the forest and focus on repairing damage done to the land during earlier eras of forest management, when timber was indeed king.
It is now time for timber to share its throne with other important human needs within a healthy and functional ecosystem. I hope readers will submit their opinions to the Tongass planners by the April 12 deadline for comments. I certainly will.