State needs a truth squad

Posted: Monday, March 24, 2008

With Panhandle neighbors like the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Capitol-movers don't need advocates like Anchorage's Voice of the Times.

The environmental organization this week urged Alaskans to write to the governor and the editors of Alaska newspapers opposing extending the highway out of Juneau. Instead, SEACC advocates spending the money on "the Glenn-Seward Highway to Highway Connection (and) needed upgrades in the Mat-Su Borough." There was no mention of spending on Southeast road projects, even the proposed second Douglas bridge.

That is only part of the assault on Alaska, especially Southeast. Alaska Wilderness Week was held in Washington, D.C., March 1-5, not in Alaska. It involved organizations that are anything but helpful to Alaska.

For 20 years, the Alaska Coalition, composed of environmental groups lobbying on Alaska issues, have met in Washington for five days of activist training. Those attending spend two days manufacturing their views on Alaska and on how to lobby Congress. The next three days they practice what they preach.

It makes it tough for Alaskans, thousands of miles away, and also because most members of Congress know little about Alaska, care less, and don't question distorted claims and outright lies.

The coalition's top goals this year, it says, are to stop oil leases offshore in the Arctic, stop leasing in the National Petroleum Reserve, block oil development on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and support legislation in Congress restricting Alaska and Alaskans. It seeks to have polar bears declared an endangered species more to block Chukchi Sea oil development than save polar bears.

According to information from the U.S. Geological Survey, which is the member of an international organization monitoring polar bears, there were about 10,000 bears worldwide in the early 1970s. That population has grown to between 20,000 and 25,000. (The information was provided to the office of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.) USGS attributes the increase to conservation measures enacted in the 1970s under the original Polar Bear Treaty, which the senator was active in crafting.

Defenders of Wildlife ran an advertising campaign in Washington, D.C., seeking federal legislation to ban aerial hunting of wolves, while Alaska newspapers reported wolves devouring household pets, sled dogs and even threatening joggers. Rural residents are asking for more wolf control to protect the moose and caribou they depend upon for food.

Last week the Alaska Wilderness League headlined in its weekly report its opposition to logging in Tongass National Forest. It supports the Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act sponsored by Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn., although she doesn't tout it on her Web site. It would designate most of the Tongass as wilderness because "more than one half of the important old growth trees in the Tongass have been lost to clearcutting."

The only agency that goes out in the woods and counts the trees, the Forest Service, says that is inaccurate:

"About 7 percent of the total productive old-growth (400,000 acres out of 5,400,000 acres) has been harvested over the last 100 years. About 15 percent of the very highest high volume stands have been harvested, while about 85 percent of the forest's highest volume old-growth remains unharvested," the Forest Service reports.

It is frustrating for Alaskans to hear inaccuracies distributed nationally. Alaskans want to protect their environment while enjoying an economy so that they can live here year around.

There are 178 foundations in Seattle with total assets exceeding $34 billion. About eight support the environmental distorters of Alaska facts. Chief among them is the Wilburforce Foundation. Those who wish to contribute anonymously to an environmental cause gives money to Wilburforce, which then doles it out in grants.

In the last two years Wilburforce has made grants to these organizations for their Alaska programs:

Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, $100,000; Alaska Center for the Environment, $75,000; Alaska Wilderness League, $205,000; Alaska Conservation Foundation, $105,000; Nature Conservancy, $300,000; National Audubon Society, $100,000; Northern Alaska Environmental Center, $80,000; Sierra Club Foundation, $75,000; Trustees for Alaska, $250,000; and even Ketchikan's little Tongass Conservation Society, $15,000.

What Alaska needs is a truth squad, financed as well, to tell its story.

And it would help if SEACC joined the exodus of state offices to Anchorage if it is not going to stand up for Southeast. Panhandle residents won't miss it.

• Lew Williams Jr. is a retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News and has been a Southeast Alaska journalist since 1946.

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