Tribal groups fight use of herbicides

Posted: Wednesday, September 05, 2001

ANCHORAGE - A Native village corporation is seeking permission to spray herbicides on its logging lands on Long Island near Prince of Wales Island west of Ketchikan.

Nearby tribal groups, however, fear the aerial spraying will result in herbicides getting into their subsistence foods. They are working with the Anchorage-based group Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council to ask the state to turn down the permit.

Klukwan Inc., the village corporation for Klukwan, near Haines, wants to spray two common herbicides, glyphosate and imazapyr, from a helicopter on 1,900 acres of its timber lands. The Native corporation says the chemicals will not cause environmental problems. And it says spraying is the only effective way for the company to kill red alder trees that are choking spruce, hemlock and red cedar.

The alders took over after the land was logged about 20 years ago, and have prevented a recovery of harvestable trees.

Although Klukwan says its logging tracts are off limits to subsistence users, Hydaburg tribal officials on Prince of Wales Island say locals continue to use Long Island for hunting, fishing and berry picking.

"That's Haida country," said Cherilyn Holter, environmental planner for the Hydaburg Cooperative Association/Haida Nation. "The food from that area goes to every potlatch in this area."

Holter says the Hydaburg tribe has circulated a petition opposed to the spraying that has been signed by all of the village's adults.

Other Prince of Wales tribal groups have joined the fight. Roger Brown, environmental planner for the Klawock Cooperative Association, wrote a letter in opposition to the spraying. Richard Peterson, mayor and tribal president of Kasaan, said his village also supports Hydaburg's fight. Kasaan villagers trade subsistence foods with Hydaburg villagers, he noted.

"What affects their food source affects our food source," Peterson said.

Klukwan has tried to get approval for the spraying for two summers now, according to Jim Tuttle, the corporation's chief forester. If approved, the spraying will take place next year, he said.

Logging companies in the Lower 48 routinely use the herbicides, but they have rarely been aerially sprayed in Alaska.

Mike Newton, an Oregon State University forestry professor, and Ed Holsten, a U.S. Forest Service regional pesticide coordinator in Alaska, back up Tuttle's claims the chemicals are safe when used correctly.

"It looks like a good proposal technically," said Holsten.

Pam Miller with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics takes a far tougher stand. She says they have been shown to persist for more than a year in northern climates and, in certain concentrations, to cause health problems to humans and declines in bird and small mammal populations.

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