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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Old growth and young growth logging needed to sustain the current industry

By Shelly Wright


March 30, 2016
Wednesday PM

Southeast Conference (SEC) a non-profit organization dedicated to the economic health of Southeast Alaska, gathered in Juneau March 15 & 16, 2016 for the Mid-Session Summit membership meeting. One of the subjects discussed at this meeting was the collapse of the Southeast Alaska timber industry. Bryce Dahlstrom, Vice President of Transportation for Viking Lumber stated, “Viking Lumber has about a year and a half of economical timber left to process. After that we are closing our doors unless more timber is sold by the Forest Service.” SEC has long been an advocate for resource development especially the timber industry and hearing this disturbing statement from our last remaining mid-size sawmill owner is devastating. Bryce went on to say that he is in despair over this decision to leave southeast, not because of the financial situation of his family, they have other opportunities elsewhere, but because of what the effects will be to the community he has grown up in. He worries about the people and communities they will be leaving behind. Approximately 150 jobs will be lost including road builders, cutters, loggers and truckers. Viking Lumber accounts for about 60% of AP&T, the local electric provider, revenue along with contributing to local towing companies, franchises such as Napa, Petro Marine, Shuab Ellison, Tyler Rental and Alaska Commercial. For communities on Prince of Wales Island, 150 jobs is a major industry.

Alcan Timber, a major employer in the industry working in Ketchikan, Zarembo Island and Hecata Island is also foreseeing operations ceasing to exist in Southeast because of insufficient supply. With the State of Alaska’s budget crisis, the delays in the Alaska Mental Health Trust land exchange and the inability or seemingly unwillingness of the Forest service to meet market demands there appears to be no economical timber for the industry to survive.

Sealaska also issued a statement saying “Sealaska’s goal for a smaller sustainable cut from its timberlands is to bridge to second growth and to create a stable workforce that can lead into second growth harvest. But creation of a stable timber industry that local communities can rely on for economic opportunities and jobs require adequate and consistent timber from the U.S. Forest Service as well. An inadequate Forest Service timber supply, such as the one now facing the industry, could make Sealaska reassess our sustainable cut framework, and threatens the industry’s ability to bridge to second growth”

The transition to young growth timber is nothing more than a political game; a game with very high stakes for the people that want to live in the Tongass. Alaska’s young growth trees are too small to manufacture. According to industry experts, the manufacturing of young growth spruce and hemlock trees in Southeast Alaska will not be financially feasible until the trees are at least 90 years old or until there are sufficient acres of 60-year old and older trees available to enable the amortization of a modern saw log sawmill. Our young growth trees are 40 to 50 years old. If the Tongass is forced into this transition our manufacturing industry will be gone completely. It will be strictly a small log export industry.

Alaska is in dire straits economically. We hear talk of diversity within our economy yet the timber industry is being choked out of business. We are allowing our resource to die in the ground instead of proper renewable management practices put in place. Timber has been a primary economic driver in the history of Alaska, especially in Southeast Alaska. Once the economic backbone of the region; the reduction in timber supply since 1990 has caused the loss of 3,500 direct industry jobs and over $100 million in annual payroll in the 1990’s. It is not the intent or the desire of the timber industry to go back to the days of clear-cut after clear-cut but it is perfectly reasonable to have an industry that can support the communities around the Tongass and contribute to the bottom line of the general fund. Southeast Alaskans are a hearty lot and will fight to the bitter end for our land and our survival. Without immediate action such as bridge timber contracts, a delay of the Tongass timber transition to young growth or a transfer of lands from federal control to State control, we will see the end of the timber industry in Southeast Alaska.

In 2013 when Secretary Vilsack announced the plan to expedite the transition to a young growth industry he promised to maintain an integrated wood products industry, continue to provide jobs and help sustain communities in Southeast Alaska and move beyond the controversial debate on old-growth forests and focus on supporting jobs. None of these things are happening.

We must convince Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and the United States Forest Service to delay the transition to a premature exclusive second growth industry. We must have a mix of old growth and young growth logging to sustain the current industry and the economy of the communities in Southeast Alaska.

Shelly Wright, Executive Director
Southeast Conference
On Behalf of the Southeast Conference Board of Directors
Juneau, Alaska

Received March 29, 2016 - Published March 30, 2016



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