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Response to Squandered Inheritance
by Owen J. Graham


April 12, 2005

Dear Mr. Jackson your April 7th letter "To concerned residents of Alaska" was emailed to our office. The letter questioned the log exports and sustainable harvest practices of one of our members. I share your concerns about squandering of public resources , but I think it is the federal lands that are being mismanaged, not the State, Mental Health, University or private lands. Consider the following points:

Log Export:

  • About two-thirds of the current timber industry employment is supported by the harvest of timber that is mostly exported.
  • The log exports are keeping our Pacific Rim flitch customers in wood while our production of sawn flitches from the sawmills is at its current low level.
  • Four primary species of timber grow in Southeast Alaska and in order to be competitive with export markets, whether to the Pacific Rim or to the Pacific Northwest, we need specialized mills for each species and type of log (e.g. large high-grade logs, high-defect logs, medium sized logs and small logs). In other words, we would need about 16 mills each processing a different species and type of log.
  • Current log mills being built in Washington State require about 120 to 150 million board feet of timber per year. Some of the new mills we must compete against process as much as 300 million board feet per year. The federal government controls 94% of the land in Southeast Alaska. The small amount of State and private land alone cannot support sixteen large mills. Until we have an assured supply of timber from the federal lands, we will have to rely heavily upon the export markets.


  • Neither the Mental Health Lands Trust nor the University have adequate timberlands to sustain a timber program with a non-declining, even flow timber harvest.
  • The Forest Service has adequate timberlands, but is only able to offer timber sales at a level of about 10% of the pre-1990 level. The federal timberlands that are not in wilderness, monuments or legislated roadless areas will support about 1,200 million board feet per year, but the 1997 land management plan permits an average of only 267 million board feet annually and, in recent years, the Forest Service has been able to make available only about 50 million board feet per year.
  • In the millions of acres of unmanaged federal timberlands, there are thousands of acres of timber rotting away. This is not good land management.

Economic Realities:

  • There were two bidders on the last two Mental Health timber sales. Both bidders are known exporters. No domestic manufactures bid on these sales because they could not compete with mills in regions that have an adequate timber supply to support a fully integrated manufacturing industry. For instance, since the last pulp mill closed, we have no facilities other than chip mills to process the low-grade timber in Southeast Alaska.
  • The Mental Health Trust timber sales around Ketchikan will return about $12 million to the Mental Health Trust and at least $23 million in additional economic activity in Ketchikan. The local manufacturers cannot currently return this much value to the Mental Health Trust and to the community.

In response to your challenge to legislate a ban on log exports, we suggest that a more responsible course of action is to help us secure a reliable timber supply that is adequate to support a fully integrated, competitive manufacturing industry. This way, the mills will be able to purchase the logs they need and the timberland owners won t have to sell their timber at discounted prices.

By the way, the log yard picture you enclosed suggests that the logs in that yard came from The Earth's largest and oldest trees . That is not correct. You can check with most any forester and get better information. We do agree that the idle veneer plant is not a good thing. Alcan Forest Products made a proposal to provide a 5-year supply of timber for the veneer plant using the export values from either a Mental Health Trust or a State of Alaska timber sale. Unfortunately, the prospective mill purchaser was apparently dissuaded by threats from groups that oppose logging. We presume you are not among those who have been trying to dissuade potential purchasers of that facility.


Owen J. Graham
Executive Director
Alaska Forest Association

Related Viewpoint:

letter Squandered Inheritance: A Challenge by Larry Jackson - Ketchikan, AK - USA


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