Currently in Washington, DC there are two bills moving through Congress that threaten to move vast tracts of the Tongass National Forest into private hands. The U.S. is unique among the Western world for setting aside large areas of our country as public lands. All Americans own these areas and the resources contained within. At nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass is one of the largest areas of public land in the country. These lands are managed for many uses. They provide the freedom to roam and enjoy this beautiful country unimpeded. We can walk, hunt, and camp freely on our public lands. Any loss of these lands represents a loss for all American people. Our public lands are continuously under threat from development and are increasingly at risk of privatization. If these trends continue, the benefits of public lands will transfer from the entire United States public to the privileged few.
Two notable bills are currently being debated in Washington that could have far reaching consequences for the Tongass National Forest. The “Unrecognized Southeast Alaska Native Communities Recognition and Compensation Act” (Landless Natives bill) sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski and the “State National Forest Management Act of 2015” (State National Forest Act) sponsored by Congressman Don Young. The Landless Natives bill seeks to create five new Urban Native Corporations and to transfer nearly 25,000 acres of public lands to each. The State National Forest Act proposes giving states the option to acquire up to 2 million acres of federal land in order to promote and speed timber production. Through new corporate ownership or state acquisition we will likely see thousands of acres of pristine rainforest lost to clearcut logging. Furthermore, state regulations regulating timber harvesting offer fewer protections to salmon bearing streams than federal regulations.
"Fishing and tourism both add over $1 billion a year to the regional economy and account for nearly 25% of all employment in Southeast. In contrast employment associated with the timber industry is less than 0.01% and contributes, a relatively low, $17 million a year."
On the surface, both bills appear to represent sound economic development. By aggressively promoting timber harvest, however, these bills both threaten our two biggest economic drivers: salmon and tourism. There is much more value in retaining our old-growth forests, protecting our salmon habitat, and sustaining a much smaller, value-added timber industry. These bills will dramatically increase old growth logging at a time when Southeast Alaska is trying to transition predominantly to a young growth based timber industry. Since logging on the Tongass depends on high-volume exports to be viable, most of the profits from this development would not stay in Alaskan communities. By contrast, fishing and tourism both add over $1 billion a year to the regional economy and account for nearly 25% of all employment in Southeast. The modern day economy of Southeast Alaska is one built on two sustainable foundations that each require intact old growth forests to flourish.
It is time for our representatives in Washington to recognize the value of the entire forest, rather than simply the trees. The Tongass alone produces 28% of Alaska’s commercial salmon catch and 25% of the whole West Coast’s annual harvest! Socially and economically, the Tongass is a salmon forest, not a timber forest. The size and type of timber industry Murkowski and Young promote for Southeast does not make sense. We are simply too isolated, too cold and lack the necessary infrastructure in order to compete with other timber growing regions in the Northern Hemisphere. The future economic surety for Southeast Alaska is found in its greatest assets: beautiful wilderness and delicious salmon. Legislation specifically mandating increased old growth timber production is not good for any of us.
The Landless Natives bill is currently being discussed by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, you can email the Administrative Director Darla Ripchensky at Darla.Ripchensky@energy.senate.gov.
The State Forests...Act has just been referred to the House of Agriculture and currently does not have a hearing date.
Stay tuned for more updates and how you can get involved.