My Turn: SEACC is for multi-use national forests

Posted: Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Once again, Juneau Empire Editor Don Smith reveals how little he knows about Tongass management issues. The fact is, his rhetoric does not reflect reality. Smith contends that a key strategy of conservationists is to drive timber operators, sportsmen, vehicles and private owners out of public lands. This is complete hogwash.

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When I worked for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council we went to extraordinary lengths to help push the Southeast Alaska timber industry towards a smarter, more sustainable future. SEACC staffer Dave Katz spent several weeks in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, studying value-added timber-product manufacturing facilities, analyzing markets, and researching shipping costs for Alaska products. He came up with an excellent report which he presented to the Governor's Southeast Timber Taskforce, despite the efforts of the timber industry old guard to deny Dave a seat at the table.

SEACC also wrote a letter of support to the Army Corps of Engineers for Steve Seley's timber-processing facility now running on Gravina Island in Ketchikan.

SEACC created a citizens alternative for the Control Lake timber sale on Prince of Wales Island. This generous 38-million-board-foot sale, focused on smaller offerings, with less road building, in order to meet the needs of POW independent timber operations.

I personally spent over two years working as part of the North Prince of Wales Collaborative Stewardship Project. Kept on track by our facilitator, Juneau's Murray Walsh, a wildly diverse bunch came up with a solid, island-based timber sale program which put small quantities of wood into the hands of small-scale operators quickly and at a good price. Unfortunately, Forest Supervisor Tom Puchlerz, whom Smith quotes chapter and verse in his Sunday column, has refused to make the program permanent.

It's also important to point out that after Undersecretary of Agriculture Jim Lyons ruled on appeals of the Tongass Forest Plan in 1999, SEACC decided to sit out the next round of litigation. Alaska Forest Association and its co-plaintiffs actually got the litigation train chugging again.

As for his other claims about pushing out sportsmen and vehicles, I simply can't figure out what Smith is referring to. SEACC actually raffles off a 30.06 rifle during its annual fund-raising drive. Information released by SEACC constantly refers to the preservation and protection of sport hunting and fishing, guiding, subsistence and commercial fishing. SEACC also fights against land giveaways that would lead to no trespassing signs, and SEACC has pushed the Forest Service to prioritize road maintenance, to ensure safety and passability of the Tongass' most heavily used transportation corridors.

And please keep in mind that right now on the Tongass, there's 272 million board feet of timber ready for purchase. If you consider that the industry cut about 43 million board feet last year, there is roughly a six-year supply of wood available from public lands. And don't forget that there are billions of board feet of timber on adjacent private lands, which Southeast Native corporations prefer to ship to Asia where they pay more for the wood.

Finally, it's important to stand up for K.J. Metcalf, one of my heroes whose congressional testimony was taken out of context by Smith. K.J. said the intention of the Tongass Timber Reform Act was not to close the pulp mills. That is correct, TTRA did not cancel the contracts.

But as long as we are digging up quotes, let me leave you with one that illustrates what keeps people like K.J. motivated, and keeps many of us here in Southeast Alaska pushing for more wilderness protection. This is from Harry Merlo, former CEO of Louisiana-Pacific in the mid-1990s.

"We need everything that's out there. We don't log to a ten-inch top, or an eight-inch top, or a six-inch top. We log to infinity. Because we need it all. It's ours. It's out there, and we need it all. Now."

Tim Bristol of Juneau is director of the Alaska Coalition, a national conservation coalition.

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