My Turn: What is behind the sudden interest in local economics?

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2002

Here we go again. Another day, another lawsuit by environmental groups trying to stop timber harvests in the Tongass National Forest.

This time it's five groups, including the Sitka Conservation Society, wanting to stop 25 U.S. Forest Service timber sales in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. The Alaska sales are the Baranof, Rowan (Kuiu Island) and Sea Level (Revillagigedo Island) sales, and the Canal Hoya sale near Wrangell.

The groups say the Forest Service neglected to take into account the "vast economic benefits of intact forests and the externalized costs passed on to businesses and communities that suffer economically when ancient forests are logged." That's according to a news release from the Forest Conservation Council, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit filed June 17 in federal district court in Seattle.

The council's director of conservation, John Talberth, says the Forest Service is required to show that a timber sale is in the best economic interests of nearby communities, the region and the nation.

Incredibly, these clueless conservationists chose Wrangell as their poster child to highlight the possible negative economic effects of a timber sale. They say the Canal Hoya sale will affect the popular Anan Creek bear observation area by destroying bear habitat and allowing hunters to harvest more bears.

"This is not sustainable and Wrangell's economy will suffer," says Sitka Conservation Society Executive Director Pat Veesart. We don't know where Veesart's been for the past decade or so, but apparently it wasn't anywhere near Wrangell.

That town has been walloped by the greens' successful efforts in stopping timber harvests in the Tongass. Wrangell's population has plummeted from its 1988 pre-Tongass Timber Reform Act high of 3,112 people to just 2,308 as of August 2001.

Longtime Wrangell residents say even more out-of-work families are packing up to leave.

The only economic boost for Wrangell we can see from this lawsuit is if the plaintiffs hired Wrangell attorneys and we doubt that they have. But there must be plenty of attorneys from elsewhere working on this lawsuit and the approximately 5,000 others pending against the Forest Service.

We would hope these newly economically sensitive environmental groups are taking into account the negative effects their legal clear-cutting is having on the judicial system.

It'll take years and untold millions of dollars to clean up the oily guck being discharged by corporate conservationists to gum up the dockets of impaired courts while causing severe erosion to the budgets of resource-management agencies and encroaching ever further on the endangered U.S. taxpayer.

It's too late to pretend concern about economics, folks. Real economic damage has been done at the urging of the same type of groups that have filed this latest lawsuit.

Do us no more favors, please, and cry your crocodile tears elsewhere.

Scott Bowlen is managing editor of the Ketchikan Daily News.

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