As Sunday's article on the worldwide interest of paleontologists in Prince of Wales Island points out, the geological resources of the island make it an internationally valuable resource. Southeast Alaska's unique, outstanding karst - and their accompanying fossils, caves and archaeological remains - have great cultural, paleontological and biological significance. Areas rich in these minerals are becoming increasingly important to our understanding of such critical questions as climate change, as well as human and animal migration into North America. They also have the potential to become the foundation of a healthy geological tourism industry in Southeast.
Karst is a type of limestone that hosts thousands of caves on the Tongass. Because it produces well-drained soil, it also produces some of the biggest, best trees in the forest. Unfortunately, logging these trees often causes irreversible damage to the caves and the archaeological evidence within them. The Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP), which outlines the Forest Service's plan for the use of the Tongass, includes guidelines for the management of forest lands with special geological and archaeological value. Unfortunately, these guidelines have not been strict enough to prevent serious, widespread logging damage to karst areas throughout Southeast.
Once lost, caves and fossils are gone forever. When TLMP comes up for its required five-year review this winter, the Forest Service should be mindful of their long-term scientific and economic value and give them more protection.
Tongass Cave Project co-director