SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Re: Southeast Economy and S.881
By Evan Hjerpe

March 31, 2010

Senator Murkowski's letter to the editor in the SitNews on 3/24/10 ( Southeast's Economy and Promises ) states that the Sealaska legislation would bring renewed economic development to Southeast and is needed for the economic survival of the region. A single-interest bill that is based on the liquidation of old growth and exporting processing jobs overseas is by no means the answer to the regional economic woes of Southeast; this perspective has been echoed during the recent listening sessions in the region. In fact, letting Sealaska harvest these lands represents a costly option in terms of adverse impacts on subsistence opportunities and the regional economic drivers the Senator alludes to of tourism, fishing, and trade.

S.881 would take much of the most productive old growth and second growth acreage out of the national forest, limiting the regional ecological and economic opportunities associated with these valuable watersheds. A 2005 McDowell report prepared for Sealaska illustrates that the direct timber jobs (Full-Time Equivalents) associated with Sealaska harvests are approximately half of those associated with Tongass National Forest harvests. Converting McDowell s job estimates to Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs) shows that Sealaska generates 2.5 FTE jobs per million board feet of harvest, while Tongass National Forest harvests generate 4.4 FTE jobs per million board feet of harvest. Additionally, due to stricter standards and guidelines, watersheds managed by the Forest Service spur more forest management and planning jobs than management of private forests. These Forest Service jobs are extremely important to rural Southeast communities, as they are year-round and pay livable wages. Decreases in the amount of public lands in Southeast will be accompanied by decreased public investments.

We do not dispute Sealaska's right to their ANCSA entitlements, but offering the Sealaska legislation as a panacea to the problems facing the Southeast regional economy is a red herring. S.881 will provide beneficial revenue to Sealaska Corporation, their subsidiaries, and their shareholders. The regional economic impact, however, will be limited and could be much greater. The productive watersheds on Prince of Wales Island under selection represent some of the most valuable areas on the Tongass for connectivity, fish production, wildlife habitat, and wood supply. As a wood basket, these watersheds should be part of a local production chain. For fish and wildlife connectivity, these watersheds should be part of a network of reserves across the Tongass that can provide both beneficial ecological and economic impacts. Dealing with the economic values of these watersheds in isolation minimizes their potential aggregate impact.

If social gridlock is limiting economic development on the public forest, let s find economic activities that receive greater social acceptability. One such method for increasing social acceptability would be a transition out of old growth clearcutting and into a robust restoration and stewardship program on our public lands. Such a transition could provide significant investments into our natural capital base, more jobs than traditional timber production, and a small-scale wood products industry. With a willing Administration that supports rural economic development and sustainable forest management, the time is ripe for Senator Murkowski and the Alaska delegation to be spearheading a truly inclusive, collaborative solution that can put people back to work in the woods, conserve high value watersheds, and fulfill Sealaska s entitlements. As it stands now, S.881 is not the answer to southeast Alaska s economic problems.

Evan Hjerpe, Ph.D.
Anchorage, AK

About: "Resource Economist, The Wilderness Society, Alaska Regional Office"

Received March , 2009 - Published March 31, 2010


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letterSoutheast's Economy and Promises By U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski

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