National Geographic's recent Tongass story, mentioned by Brittany Retherford ("Magazine seeks 'truth' about Tongass," July 8) may not have quoted Forest Service or timber industry representatives, but it presented a balanced and accurate picture of the economic realities that shape people's lives and livelihoods in Southeast Alaska.
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Forests here are dominated by trees that have lower timber value, grow on steep slopes, are located far from markets, and cost more to extract, process, and transport than timber from competitive regions such as British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. To survive, Alaska's timber industry has to be heavily subsidized.
More money and jobs are made in tourism and fishing-industries that rely on forests remaining uncut and watersheds un-roaded. In fact, a conservative estimate of the economic value of wilderness, which provides habitat for salmon and other species on the Tongass, is $1.6 billion - 50 times more than the total sales from the forest products industry in all of Alaska.
National Geographic didn't side with environmentalists in its article. It merely pointed out the biological and economic "truths" that we are all beginning to understand about the Tongass. There is still a place for wood products, but it doesn't make economic sense to log at the scale we've seen in the past, especially not at the expense of other, more valuable services and products derived from a standing forest. For the sake of future generations, the Forest Service should move away from harvesting old growth to focus on second-growth stands in areas that already have roads, and direct federal funding toward wildlife enhancement, marketing assistance for value-added manufacturing and other programs that do more to meet local needs. These programs would enhance opportunities for the true economic engines of Southeast Alaska - nature-based tourism, recreation and commercial fishing.
Alaska Forest Program
Manager, The Wilderness Society