Although opinions about what has taken place in the Tongass National Forest during the last 70 years vary widely, the work conducted by the Tongass Ground-Truthing project goes beyond opinion and is an on-going scientific evaluation of what has taken place in this forest.
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Although recent letters to the editor regarding the July 8 Juneau Empire story, "Magazine seeks 'truth' about Tongass," would lead one to believe this evaluation is open to interpretation, the fact remains the Tongass has undergone significant logging. Much of it took place prior to the implementation of what are now generally accepted standards for environmentally sensitive timber harvests.
Rather than being a source for debate, scientific exercises such as the Tongass Ground-Truthing project should help us plot a course for the future. Many of the logged areas of the Tongass will soon be available to harvest as second-growth timber. Others should be re-evaluated for their potential as conservation units, and many of them are in need of stream or upland restoration work to bring back prior levels of fish and wildlife productivity. Each of these factors are, in themselves, opportunities.
With a change in focus, our timber industry could adapt to take advantage of second-growth timber. We do know a lot more about the effects of logging on the environment now than we did in the past. Through restoration work and natural recovery, the once highly productive areas of the Tongass will likely be so again. With the benefit of hindsight, we may determine they offer greater usefulness to fish, wildlife, subsistence, recreation and tourism than to timber harvest this time around. Stream and upland restoration projects put local people to work, often in the same communities that are now experiencing economic downturns.
Trout Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Forest Service to jointly promote stream restoration projects on Prince of Wales Island. This partnership has already been successful in planning, funding and undertaking restoration projects on Fubar and Sal creeks, which have brought much needed jobs and income to the island. Although these projects have been successful, they represent a minute fraction of the work needed elsewhere in the Tongass.
There's a great deal of opportunity awaiting our region if we are willing to think beyond the debates of the past and embrace the opportunities available to us in the future.
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