My Turn: The nature of the forest

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2003

As one who grew up and worked in remote logging camp locations, I would like to offer the public some facts contrary to Greenpeace's claims that the Tongass National Forest has been devastated.

My father logged in Thomas, Big and Little Saltery, Crab, Kadashan, Corner, Freshwater, Saook and Saginaw Bays. His company also logged Mendenhall Valley and Lemon Creek Valley, and built logging roads on Kruzof and Catherine islands. In Kadashan Bay (late 1950s), our logging camp fed flapjacks to a herd of 28 starving deer until my grandfather, A. W. Boddy (who was head of the Alaska Sportsmen's Association) was notified, and the association helped us by sending out bags of oats for the herd.

My present day work of scrap metal and soil contamination cleanup as well as heavy equipment construction takes me all over Southeast Alaska throughout the year, and I have been to most locations that have been logged by my father as well as other logging companies. In July, my company did a partial cleanup of five canneries. Most of the logging sites have been cleaned up, but there are a few canneries left. What is left to be done is minimal to the amount of jobs Greenpeace claims that cleanup work could offer.

June 2002 took me to Kiui Island where I spent about a month at our old log dump site at Saginaw Bay. There is plenty of wildlife, and the 30-year-old new growth is awesome with 24-inch diameter, 60-70 foot tall trees. The creeks and rivers along the areas we logged were full of salmon.

The lakes we used to hike to to swim were just as I remembered them 30 years ago. While I was there in June, a team of biologists was in the area studying the bear populations, which had been declining. They attributed the bear decline to over-hunting.

When I was a young boy, the streams in Saook (especially) and Kadashan bays were so full of fish they were nearly solid from bank to bank. In Kadashan Bay, we witnessed two different seiners come in and "rob" the creek of fish without disrupting the population. I didn't think this river could have more fish in it than when we logged there, but this past July my job took me back there, and the people with me were astonished at the abundance of fish. As we approached the river mouth, a brown bear retreated into the new growth timber where we noticed numerous bear trails leading to and from the river.

Both the Kadashan and Corner Bay log camp sites were "cat logged" 40 years ago. All the gravel for our logging roads was excavated right next to this river as, during the '60s, there was no such thing as leaving buffers. Today there are thick berry patches, no lack of deer, and more bear sign than I care to see. The new forest is thick with strong, healthy trees that are comparable in size to the ones at the aforementioned Saginaw Bay logging site. One forest service official told me that the ponds we left next to the river from dredging had merged with the river and were ideal salmon spawning grounds.

At our Saook Bay camp (43 years ago) there was a big spruce tree that was 5 feet at the butt. Some of us boys built a ladder 25 feet high on the tree so we could get up in it to have our "wood fights." When I recently visited the site, I was surprised to see that the ladder is still attached in the same spot and hasn't been torn apart by the trees' growth. It would be safe to say that this tree has not grown much in 43 years.

My dad used to say that trees have a life span, and when they get to a certain age they will stop growing, start to decline and eventually die just like any living thing. The oldest living tree is the bristlecone pine (4,766 years) in the White Mountains of California, but most other trees (not counting redwoods and sequoias, which can live 1,000-3,000 years) have a life span of from 120-400 years. The importance of this fact is that while most Juneauites think the forest around Juneau is old growth, in reality it is second growth.

Special interest groups such as Greenpeace will never put facts such as these out for the public's enlightenment. They are masters at hiding the truth, and their terrorist activities in the name of being green are for their own selfish reasons.

• William R. Tonsgard Jr. of Juneau is owner of Channel Construction, Inc. and W.R. Tonsgard Logging and Lumber.

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