In Lew Williams' op-ed calling for more Tongass clearcuts, he spins out a string of figures to support his claim that logging has not and never will deplete the resources of the Tongass. While he got some of the numbers right, Williams is playing a numbers shell game that hides the fact that the areas to be logged are among the most valuable places to hunt, fish, and spend a weekend.
Williams refuses to recognize that not all old-growth forest is equal. He prefers to treat the high altitude scrub forest the same as Berners Bay. All of us who live here know there's a difference between dwarf scrub trees and low-lying shoreline forests. Though 400,000 acres of clearcuts are a small percent of the total Tongass National Forest, it is a large percentage of the land with the low elevation stands of big trees. These trees are valuable to the timber industry for obvious reasons, but they are even more valuable to the people and wildlife that depend on them. In the last century, the logging industry has consistently targeted the ecological heart of the Tongass, clearcutting those small areas that shelter the best anchorages, rich salmon streams, and winter deer browse.
Williams also ignores the effect that Native corporation logging has had on Southeast Alaska. Native corporations own 500,000 acres of land in Southeast, 75 percent of which have been clearcut. This alone doubles the amount of old-growth forest harvested in the region. Again, much of this clearcutting has been in drinking watersheds, customary and traditional gathering areas, and favorite sport hunting and fishing spots.
Williams makes the mistake of measuring the worth of the Tongass in acres and board feet. His argument would bear more weight if he were talking about trees somewhere out in the middle of an uninhabited, unused forest. But the watersheds the timber industry has its sights set on are hugely valuable as deer, bear and salmon habitat, and as hiking, fishing, camping, and hunting grounds. They include areas like Tenakee Inlet, Sitka's Poison Cove and Ushk Bay, Southeast Mitkof Island near Petersburg, and the Cleveland Peninsula north of Ketchikan. In short, places slated for more logging are right in our backyards.
Williams calculated acreage, but his numbers don't even capture the value in the ways that we live, gather food, and make money from our forest home.