Lew Williams' opinion piece and other letters about how good things are on the Tongass National Forest really got me thinking. There is a long history of logging in Southeast, from A-frames to industrial-scale pulp mills to the more modest mills operating today. The fact is that, over the last century - including the time before land was set aside for protection - loggers have always targeted the best trees.
It's also a fact that two-thirds of the Tongass is rock, glaciers or scrub timber. As a result, there are fewer really good timber stands left today than there could have been.
For a lot of people in Southeast, logging is out of sight, if not out of mind. But on Prince of Wales Island you can see its effects all over the place. Stands of young trees of low value to deer and other wildlife are evidence of the huge, old clearcuts from the days of the pulp mills. Newer clearcuts speak to the continued presence of the mid-size mills.
This high-impact logging contrasts with the Forest Service's very successful micro-sale program. Designed for small, family-owned logging and construction businesses on the island, the program supports businesses while leaving a much smaller footprint on the land.
In the near future, I think that people from other parts of Southeast may find that the costs of large-scale logging will hit closer to home. Near Ketchikan, for example, the Forest Service is planning timber sales on Gravina Island and pulling out road maps for the Cleveland Peninsula. Whether you like logging or not, these are places where folks hunt, fish, trap, camp and find safe anchorages.
As a longtime Prince of Wales resident, I can say that when the chainsaws threatened prime subsistence lands at Elevenmile, local residents, Natives and conservationists didn't think about numbers, percentages or land protected in other parts of the Tongass. We all thought about what we were going to lose.
Prince of Wales Conservation League co-chairman
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