My Turn: To understand science, preserve old-growth forest

Posted: Monday, June 24, 2002

We don't know what makes forest ecosystems tick. We don't know how the numbers of species and their distributions over long time affect the overall characteristics of the forest. We have broad outlines of the transformations, such as steep mountains become gentile over time, and forests may become peat bogs and marshes. The parade of different kinds of plants and animals and change in diversity is of which we know little. These relations in the period of man's modern intervention in the forest are not known. Only those rich primeval forests hold the keys to diversity, productivity and scientific understanding.

Forest Service Tongass Supervisor Tom Puchlerz seems to have pandered to the concept of wilderness (Empire, June 11) when he was not equally concerned about the last 5 percent of these old-growth rain forests of the Tongass National Forest. So clearly identified as the cream of the dynamic forests processes, and high organic production which established them - as the very basis of commercial interest - now are represented in the Tongass by 5 percent of their former abundance! It seems to me there is a larger economic stake in the perpetuation of remaining a tiny fragment of 5 percent of the commercial forest and its protection for science, than for the gross commercial profits obtained from its demise. Apparently the timber industry's immediate material greed has blinded them from their own legitimate long-term self-interest.

What was it in the relatively small proportion of the Tongass forest that came to represent the commercial timber base? Such lands were the best lands in the entire forest for producing trees. The trees themselves identified and selected the specific land for their growth. Humans had nothing to do with it. A whole world of potential discovery rests now in this 5 percent of the original forest. The process, dynamics and functions of these remnant forests still resist discovery and understanding and only if such particular - and now unique forests - remain protected can hope ever be sustained that such underlying primal processes can be fully understood.

And we engaged in a debate which this forest supervisor and his superiors seem to know nothing, as demonstrated by the SEIS by such flagrant omissions! I am told the excuse is the court's recent direction for them to consider only wilderness. How wilderness can be discussed without old growth entering into the discussion is a trick apparently the Forest Service is willing to attempt to perform. Undisturbed and unfragmented unlogged lands are the original wilderness. The language of supervisor Puchlerz in the Empire letter about wilderness does not serve the American public well, but serves exclusively the short-term controlling timber interests. The forests should be managed through science and for all the people, not politics alone.

The SEIS is a self-serving document, which knows none of the causes and employees the court-ordered attention of wilderness to avoid the necessary relation between wilderness and old growth forests. The author of the SEIS is like Narcissus perpetually beholding repetitively his own likeness and beauty in the pool until he fades away into nothing. And where he was to be acknowledged by the gods by a single flower, there is nothing but the wake of Forest Service policy and no fitting primeval forest of acknowledgment and commemoration but of secondary forests and a place where the primordial spirits have long-abandoned, taking their knowledge with them, and never to be discovered.

How far must these remaining champion old growth forests dwindle until it is finally understood this precious resource holds many vital keys to understanding forests? Two percent or one percent, or less? It is outrageous and it is not in the best interest of the nation. To write an SEIS without attention to such problems should certainly be addressed in the courts.

Richard Myren has been active in Southeast conservation since moving to Juneau in the mid-1950s.

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