My Turn: What? Tongass only 4th most endangered?

Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2001

The National Forest Protection Alliance - whoever the outfit is, and whatever its expertise - lists the Tongass National Forest as fourth among the 10 most endangered national forests in the nation.

It's hard to believe three forests are more endangered after reading the complaint by a representative of the Sitka Conservation Society a few days before the alliance announced its list.

Conversely, it's hard to believe the Tongass is on anyone's endangered list when 14.5 million acres of the total 17 million acres are forever closed to logging and 6 million of the 14.5 are wilderness.

Looking back, between 1907 when the Tongass was created and 90 years later, when the last pulp mill closed and the latest Tongass Land Management Plan was issued, only 500,000 acres out of 9.5 million acres of trees had been harvested. Only 576,000 more acres of timber are subject to harvest in the next 200 years. So at the end of that 300 years, 88 percent of the Tongass old growth will be untouched. Hardly devastating

What the two environmental announcements in the same week mean is that the radical groups are putting on a big push to shut down all logging in the Tongass, countering a claim by Alaska environmentalists that they just want a reduced harvest to meet the needs of small operators

The current method for killing the Alaska timber industry is to advocate that the Clinton administration's roadless ban extend to the Tongass, creating new wilderness by executive order. That is contrary to terms of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which requires congressional approval of such action.

We haven't heard before the names of current representatives of the alliance or the Sitka Conservation Society. We assume they are new seasonal visitors in the Tongass such as the lady from Idaho that one environmental organization paid to spend one summer in Ketchikan collecting signatures of tourists on post cards asking roadless protection for the Tongass. Such activists come and go at Sitka, at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council in Juneau and at the Tongass Conservation Society in Ketchikan so often that we find one charge in the Sitka Conservation Society publicity release a little hypocritical.

"The U.S. Forest Service, driven by Alaska's congressional delegation and their pals in the timber industry, has greatly accelerated timber planning in Tongass Roadless Areas. It's clear that their intent is to cut and run quickly before somebody stops them."

"Cut and run?" At least a logger stays around a few years - some for a lifetime, contributing to his community.

Environmentalists claim the timber industry is subsidized while sources of their income are tax-free grants - subsidies. And they contribute only a negative voice and run.

The Alaska congressional delegation is suspect, according to the Sitka Conservation Society. Such comment should be carefully reconsidered, especially if one of Alaska's delegation asks Sitka officials, "Is that how Sitka views us?"

Despite the opinion of the Sitka Conservation Society, the majority of Alaskans believe that Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski and Congressman Don Young are doing a great job. Each has garnered more than 70 percent of the vote in each of his last election bids.

The Sitka Conservation Society tries to make the meager cut that the Forest Service plans for the next five years sound sensationally high, which shows that the writer and the alliance writer are newcomers with little Tongass knowledge.

They decry that the Forest Service plans to offer 539 million board feet of timber in the next five years. The real problem? That is not enough to keep the existing timber industry running - a sawmill each at Wrangell, Klawock and Ketchikan; a veneer plant in Ketchikan, plus a few one- to six-man operations throughout the Panhandle.

The latest Tongass Land Management plan allows a cut of 268 million board feet a year. The Forest Service is putting up less than one-half of that, according to the figures that shock the Sitka Conservation Society, ignoring another federal law requiring the Forest Service to meet demand.

So what is really threatened? Probably the 60,000 people who live in Southeast Alaska and the economies of towns that persist in insulting our political leaders and fomenting dissension among Alaskans with faulty facts.

Lew Williams is a retired Ketchikan newspaper publisher and a 66-year resident of southeast Alaska.

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