Greenpeace representatives who opened their ship the Esperanza to visitors and the media Saturday in Juneau said they are preparing for nonviolent protests in Southeast over logging in the Tongass National Forest.
Instead of building new roads for logging, the federal government should create jobs by cleaning up clearcut areas, said members of Greenpeace and the National Forest Protection Alliance.
The ship arrived on Friday, and through Sunday members of the environmental activist group will make their case for keeping the Tongass and Chugach national forests closed to major logging projects.
Owen Graham, executive director of the industry group Alaska Forest Association, said the plan indicates how very little the groups know about the timber industry.
"We've come to Alaska because we don't want to see this unique place sold off to the highest bidder for short-term gain," said Andrea Durbin, national campaigns director for Greenpeace.
"Unfortunately, that's what would happen if the Bush administration succeeds in gutting the roadless area conservation rule."
The roadless rule, established by President Bill Clinton shortly before leaving office, prevents new road construction in national forests. But the Bush administration is working to exempt the Tongass and Chugach.
Members of Greenpeace and the National Forest Protection Alliance said they would resort to nonviolent protest if the Bush administration is successful in opening up the forests to logging.
"In Sitka, I have started a Tongass Pledge of Resistance to help people be prepared to oppose logging these last, best forests in Southeast," said Don Muller, a bookstore owner in Sitka who was on the ship.
Muller did not give much detail about what such protests would entail, but he acknowledged it might include protesters acting as human shields to prevent loggers from cutting down trees.
"It's a tool of the powerless," Muller said. "It's sort of a last-resort effort."
Jake Kreilick, a project coordinator for the National Forest Protection Alliance, said Greenpeace and the NFPA held a workshop in June in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana to educate approximately 100 activists about environmental policy and train them to safely participate in nonviolent forms of protest.
Durbin said Greenpeace is not opposed to logging in the Tongass, noting that small-scale logging projects to create value-added products could generate new jobs for struggling panhandle communities.
Kreilick said thousands of jobs could be created if the federal government would pay to clean up areas that have been logged by the U.S. Forest Service and Native corporations.
While noting that such a restoration plan is not a cure-all for Southeast's economy, he added: "Basically what our bill calls for is redirecting the current moneys that go into the federal timber sale program into worker retraining and the creation of a natural heritage restoration job corps. ..."
Graham of the Alaska Forest Association in an interview called the plan "a fantasy."
He said a significant portion of the federal subsidy to the timber industry now goes toward fighting lawsuits and appeals from environmental groups such as Greenpeace.
Graham also contradicted claims from the organizations that the industry could see a reasonable return by harvesting anything other than old-growth trees.
"I think it indicates how very little these people know about Southeast Alaska," Graham said. "They just make stuff up as they go along - whatever sounds good."
Graham said 100 million board feet of timber running through the Ketchikan mill would provide up to 40 jobs for three years.
"That doesn't include logging and spin-off jobs," Graham said.
Greenpeace representatives will provide tours of the Esperanza today between 2 and 5 p.m. and Monday between 7 and 9 p.m. Those taking the tour can catch a ferry boat out to the ship at Marine Park.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.