After almost 20 years in Oregon, my wife and I returned to Juneau. Some things have changed since our 15 years in Southeast Alaska during the 1970s and 80s; it is remarkable how many things have not. Among the more or less unchanged issues are the road north from Juneau, the ultimate location of the capital, and the perception of the U.S. Forest Service as the servant of its federal masters and megacorporate interests.
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Chief among the changes is that so many more people now seem to feel the need to actively protect the quality of life in Alaska. In 1973, in Sitka and perhaps elsewhere, the phrase "don't Californicate Alaska" was a popular put down of the environmental movement. The message seemed to translate: "Let's not learn from other's mistakes. We want to make them all ourselves."
Now a majority of Alaskans seem to have recognized the Tongass National Forest as a true diamond, a treasure of which lucky or clever Alaskans are able to personally partake, but which has broader value as well. The Tongass is still a diamond in the rough, even after the last hundred years of, at times, uncontrolled mining, fishing and logging. The debate now is over how to shape the diamond. The possibility of literally "cutting the diamond" seems to have faded, with the recognition that timber is not the only, or even the primary, resource. The challenge is how best to balance the multiple needs of Alaskans, and of the rest of the country, as the jewel is shaped. The current court-ordered rewriting of the Tongass management plan is an opportunity for all to have some impact on the ultimate shape of Southeast Alaska.