Empire Editorial: State leaders, SE communities stand firm on Tongass' future

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2002

On June 20, Sens. Murkowski and Stevens along with Rep. Don Young submitted a letter to the U.S. Forest Service urging that no action be taken to create new wilderness designations on the Tongass National Forest. Communities throughout Southeast Alaska are taking similar stands. Their comment on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for the Tongass National Forest Plan Revision was published in Friday's Empire.

The fate of the Tongass will determine how the region's economy will play out for many years to come. Since the Tongass Timber Reform Act (TTRA) was passed in 1990, Southeast Alaska's economy has suffered mightily. More than 2,700 timber jobs have vanished since the act passed and many more have been lost in other sectors of the economies of small SE communities as a result of the ripple effect caused by the loss of those timber jobs.

The TTRA added 1.2 million acres of designated wilderness to the 4.6 million acres already congressionally designated as "non-development Land Use Designations (LUD's). As the above mentioned letter points out, Congress instructed the Forest Service to cease further review of roadless areas in the Tongass for possible wilderness designation.

Our congressional delegation acknowledges what the Forest Service already knows, that "we have a supply of wilderness that far exceeds the demand and is out of balance with the supply of suitable and available timberland."

As it stands now, for every acre of land available for timber harvest there are 10 acres of under-utilized land protected forever from development. Only 4 percent of the Tongass is available for harvest and, in reality, actual harvest will fall far short of the 665,000 acres this figure represents.

At 6.6 million acres of wilderness, the Tongass contains 17 percent of all Forest Service land designated as wilderness. It would appear that the green movement expects Alaska to make up for lost opportunities in setting aside forest elsewhere in the United States.

The uncertainty surrounding the future availability of a reliable timber supply is effectively quashing new capital investment in timber operations and even other non-timber opportunities. A number of environmental groups, including The Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, The Alaska Coalition, and the Sitka Conservation Society, fueled by money from mostly outside of Alaska, are doing all they can to add to the uncertainty.

U.S. District Judge James Singleton has effectively contributed to this aura of uncertainty though a series thoughtlessly, or perhaps strategically, inconsistent rulings regarding the fate of timber sales in the Tongass.

Millions of acres of the Tongass are already protected for the few who will ever benefit from it. What an enchanting notion it is for people far removed from Alaska to protect a vast forest they will never see while stealing opportunity from people they will never meet.

We agree with the position taken by our Alaska congressional delegation, and strongly urge support for Alternative No. 1 - no action. By choosing this alternative, valuable time will be provided to consider more sustainable choices for the future of the Tongass and the people who make it their home. Southeast Alaska's damaged economy could use some breathing room to stabilize.

If you want to see all of Southeast Alaska become one giant park with "Going Out of Business" signs hanging at the city limits of communities from Ketchikan to Juneau, vote for Alternative No. 8 - to place an additional 10 million acres forever in wilderness.

The Forest Service accepts comments until Aug. 17. Please take a moment to fill out the comment form found on page A8 of today's paper and mail to: USDA FS Tongass NF, Content Analysis Team, PO Box 9079, Missoula, MT 59807; fax 406-239-3556, or go on its Web site at www.tongass-seis.net.

Correction: An alert reader pointed out a couple of factual errors in the editorial published June 16. The facts show that Admiralty Island contains just under 1 million acres of wilderness while Misty Fiord is the largest protected area at 2.2 million acres. Also, most trees in the Tongass mature in 80 to 90 years not 40 to 50 years as the column incorrectly stated. Please accept the Empire's sincere apologies.

Don Smith



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