Sometimes you just have to give credit where it's due. Recently, the U.S. Forest Service announced it was planning a 70,000-board-foot timber sale at Corner Bay across from Tenakee, a so called "small sale," tailor-made for the community's one- and two-person sawmill owners. Meanwhile, down on Prince of Wales Island, those in charge of the most road-sliced and stump-filled ranger district in the Tongass have worked hard to create a highly successful micro-sale program that is presently keeping quite a few small businesses going.
These micro-sales put a premium on providing small quantities of wood in a timely manner to nearby businesses. Almost all the wood sold on the Thorne Bay Ranger District these days is through the micro-sale program. Compare these community-focused, value-packed, environmentally sensible proposals with other "big box" sales scheduled by the Forest Service in other areas of the Tongass, and you see that we still have plenty of room for improvement. One only needs to look a little ways up Tenakee Inlet for an illustration. The Forest Service for years has been grinding forward with the Finger Mountain timber sale, a 20 million-board-foot behemoth despised by Tenakee residents.
A forester who operates one of the finest sustainable forestry programs in the country once said: "You have to learn to fit the mill to resource, not the resource to the mill."
We are still learning this lesson here in Southeast Alaska. The logging industry's old guard, along with their political allies, demand a return of the centralized, factory-based logging of the Tongass past. It's a model that treated places like Prince of Wales and Chichagof islands as resource colonies, that led to waste and environmental damage, and created an eggs-in-one-basket economic situation destined to fail as global markets shifted.
The small wood offering at Corner Bay and the Thorne Bay micro-sales programs are wonderful steps in the right direction. Sales like Finger Mountain unfortunately, represent two steps back. Let's all work together to support the good ideas, reject the bad ideas, and help move the Forest Service where it needs to go.