My Turn: Whose forest interests are narrow?

Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2003

I enjoyed reading William Tonsgard Jr.'s recent My Turn of Aug. 26, "The nature of the forest." The historical perspective of the various Southeast Alaska bays that Mr. Tonsgard recalls makes for very interesting and enjoyable reading.

His point appears to be that despite the logging, or perhaps because of it, areas that were logged many years ago are still thriving with wildlife; fish, deer, bears, berries and second-growth forests. I appreciate that long-term perspective. His observations seem to dispute the concerns of Greenpeace about the effects of logging in Southeast.

But note that Mr. Tonsgard is employed cleaning up "scrap metal and soil contamination" of these same logging sites. In other words, he is directly benefiting from the work of activists seeking to restore our forests. Had not activists such as Greenpeace drawn attention to the contamination left over from old logging camps, he wouldn't be benefiting from such contracts and the mess would still be out there. So, perhaps Mr. Tonsgard might admit that his concerns over the long-term effects of logging and the concerns of Greenpeace are more similar to his than they are different. The difference being in the degree to which the Tongass is allowed to be logged. I suspect that in the long-term, Mr. Tonsgard's concerns and those of environmental organizations such as Greenpeace are quite similar. Both want to see a sustained forest. It is in the short-term that they disagree. Or, just how much logging should be allowed to occur at any given year or decade? And what are the long-term effects of clear-cut logging?

Calling Greenpeace a "special interest group," however, as Mr. Tonsgard does, seems to suggest its motives are very narrow. But if their goal is the preservation of the forests for future generations, how can that be a narrow goal? As a nation, we advocate maintaining a strong education system for the benefit of future generations even though on a national average only about 20 percent of adults have children in the education system. Is maintaining a strong education system a "special interest?" Can preserving our forests for future generations be any less narrow than maintaining a strong education system?

To my knowledge, Greenpeace has no financial interest in limiting logging in the Tongass, unlike the timber corporations who directly benefit from logging. Thus, if anyone has a "special interest," it's the corporations, whose interest in profits is at stake. But do these same corporations have your interest and mine in mind when they make decisions about their logging activities? Do they care about whether there are deer to hunt or salmon-filled streams in the future? I have a hard time believing that if those concerns are going to cost them a lot of money they have any interest at all in stream rehabilitation or site clean-up, unless forced to by legislation.

Take Weyerhauser, for example. A century or more ago they began logging in Maine. Then, when the timber petered out, they moved on to Michigan. They continued west to Washington and Oregon to log more flourishing forests. When I grew up in Seattle, Weyerhauser was "the" timber company in Washington. A few years ago they moved their headquarters from Tacoma to Atlanta. Do you think the executive directors of Weyerhauser in Atlanta care about deer populations and stream rehabilitation in western Washington?

Closer to home, recall the letters from some Hoonah residents over the past couple of years who have been greatly saddened by the large cutting of the forests surrounding Hoonah. And this by a Native corporation whose bottom lineappears to be profit incentive rather than the preservation of Native heritage.

There are special interests concerning our Southeast Alaska forests. But if the term "special interests" is tossed about, let's make sure we acknowledge and include in the discussion of logging in the Tongass all narrow-interest, profit-motive organizations. In my opinion, corporations have a "special interest" that is certainly more narrow than that of Greenpeace and other environmental organizations.

• Steve Wolf of Juneau is a retired special education teacher who enjoys hiking, kayaking, skiing and other outdoor activities in Southeast Alaska.

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