My Turn: Gravina's value is more than the trees

Posted: Monday, December 06, 2004

Just days before it was required to respond to the administrative appeals filed by the Organized Village of Saxman, the Metlakatla Indian Community, and others, the Forest Service withdrew the controversial decision to authorize logging nearly 38 million board feet of forest and building about 22 miles of road on Gravina Island. The village and Metlakatla appealed this decision because we strongly object to any logging or road-building on land that has served as our people's "food pantry" for millennia. The value and importance of these intact lands has increased because of past logging, roads, and development on Gravina, Pennock, and Kitchkaan (Revilla) Islands.

For the Organized Village of Saxman, or any member of the public, to seek administrative review of a timber sale decision, the Forest Service holds us to very strict requirements. Yet, throughout this long timber sale planning process, the Forest Service never took the time to verify the accuracy of its own analysis. The appeals of the Gravina timber sale decision exposed the agency's drastic underestimation of the sale's impacts on the island's deer population. How can any of us participate effectively in the planning process if we can't trust the accuracy of the information used by the agency to justify its decision?

The Forest Service claims it engaged in full and meaningful consultation with OVS to address tribal concerns about the sale. We disagree. By choosing to meet with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska Department of Transportation, and Alaska Mental Health Trust about their interests in developing Gravina before identifying the purpose and need for this project or beginning consultations with the Tribe, it is clear to us that the Forest Service did not intend to give our voice equal weight. We further object to the Forest Service treating meetings with one council member or general meetings with more than one tribe as "consultation."

The most basic requirement for successful consultation is the sharing of accurate information between the parties. The agency's failure to provide the tribe and others with correct information, or fully accommodate the concerns of the people most directly affected by the sale, cripple the tribe's ability to protect the interests of its members.

The Saxman tribal government strongly opposes the sale because it threatens the customary and traditional activities of our community. Numerous families obtain salmon, deer, seal, clams, cockles, birds, crabs, sea greens, seaweed, and berries from the Gravina pantry. In addition, there are many artifacts and heritage sites, some reaching back thousands of years. Clear-cutting timber, providing a few short-term logging jobs, and building roads through the heart of this physically and culturally rich storehouse are not fair exchanges for the resources we depend upon. This place feeds our families. Using it is a way to remain connected to our grandparents and our grandchildren. It is our home.

We urge the Forest Service to drop any plans for timber sales on Gravina, and to work with us to safeguard this place, now and for future generations.

• Lee Wallace is president of the Organized Village of Saxman.



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