The Tongass is the foundation of Southeast Alaska's culture, communities and economy, so we owe it to our fellow and future Southeast Alaskans to work together to keep all three thriving.
Most Southeast residents believe we can balance jobs and the environment, as long as we get over our past battles. They're also skeptical that either side will ever be able to get over them.
But we don't have a choice.
For more than two years, there has been progress between the timber industry, conservation groups and other Tongass stakeholders through the Tongass Futures Roundtable and various spin-off conversations. Through these discussions, many of us now realize what many of you have felt for some time: we're all in this forest together, and we need to start acting like it if we want to pass on all that we love about this place to our children and grandchildren.
Instead of leaving the future of our forests up to someone else to decide, many folks are trying hard to work together as neighbors instead of adversaries to find workable solutions.
Fighting and blaming each other wastes resources, time and energy, and it keeps us from seeing ways forward that might bring each side a lot closer to what they need. In the case of the Logjam timber sale on Prince of Wales Island, a good start to meeting both sides' needs is already on the table.
It may not be perfect, but the proposal submitted by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Audubon Alaska, and the Alaska Wilderness League during the initial public process, and again during the subsequent appeal process, is a good faith attempt to find common ground, provide significant jobs, and conserve important fish and wildlife resources on Prince of Wales Island. It can be viewed online at seacc.org/files/Logjam%20Official%20Request%20-%20exhibits.pdf
It offers more than 37 million board feet of timber. That's more than half of what the Forest Service proposed initially and in its most recent decision. This balance could preserve critical wildlife corridors and still supply around two years' worth of timber for Viking Lumber or a similar mill. I strongly recommend everyone read the Logjam decision and the various appeal proposals on the Forest Service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r10/ tongass/newsroom/newsroom_specialreports.shtml.
The Forest Service can still restructure its decision to better incorporate the diverse demands on the forest on Prince of Wales Island and begin to undo the all-or-nothing mindset that has plagued Tongass land discussions for years.
Last year, SEACC, the Sitka Conservation Society and the Forest Service successfully struck a balance between conservation, community and local industry needs with the Iyouktug timber sale outside Hoonah. Continuing those efforts with Logjam and future sales could bring more certainty for everyone who counts on the Tongass.
After forty years of fighting, many Southeast Alaskans are justifiably skeptical old adversaries can really change. But after two years of talking to one another, some on both sides are beginning to realize that each have legitimate needs that deserve respect and consideration. There will always be disagreements, but those of us willing to reach across the table and open up our minds recognize that helping meet our neighbors' needs can help us meet our own.
So let's hope the Forest Service doesn't give up on the Alaskans who are working together. Finding a balanced resolution to Logjam now would be a great step.
We all love this place and choose to make our homes here - and we all need a healthy forest to make that happen. There will always be points of contention with a forest that provides so much for so many, but we must not let those differences prevent us from finding the common ground that can move everyone closer to getting what they need from the Tongass.
In short, let's give peace a chance.
Lindsey Ketchel is executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. To learn more, visit www.seacc.org.
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