SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Timber Industry Retooling
By Evan Hjerpe


April 06, 2009

Dear Editor:

Sen. Murkowski's press release advocating her Southeast Alaska Timber Industry Retooling and Restructuring Act ( Murkowski Proposes Southeast Initiative to Aid Regional Economy, 4/2) misrepresents many facts, leaving me concerned that her bill may miss the mark. The Murkowski press release incorrectly attributes the decline of the timber industry in Southeast Alaska to a litany of federal forest policy changes. In fact, the decline of the timber industry is due to a number of market-driven factors and a long history of unsustainable high-grading of the biggest and best trees. The timber industry in Southeast Alaska has always been affected by inherent competitive disadvantages. Because of rugged terrain and distance from markets, logging, manufacturing, and transportation costs have always been high. Southeast Alaska's forests are also dominated by tree species with lower value in timber markets, which means higher lumber production and processing costs. These factors, and the collapse of the lumber export market to Japan in the 1980s, have caused the decline of Southeast Alaska's timber industry.

Murkowski's suggestion that timber harvest levels have been stymied due to federal policy and timber sale litigation is also misleading. Given that past clearcuts targeted the most valuable and accessible timber, it's no mystery why the search for "economic timber" is getting more and more difficult. Timber supply is not the problem, nor is it the solution. Over the last decade, nearly 50 percent of all Tongass National Forest timber sales offered received no bids; of the timber that did sell, approximately 40 percent of that supply was defaulted on by the operators.

I agree with Murkowski that Southeast Alaska communities need economic opportunities, but solutions must happen in the context of regional economic realities. An effective retooling bill should create incentives for the timber industry to utilize byproducts from restoration efforts and young growth management (e.g. small diameter mills, mechanized harvesting equipment appropriate for young growth thinning, and riparian restoration equipment). Incentives should also be aimed at local market penetration (e.g. developing local markets for wood heating, cabin logs, etc.).

Allocating funds for a wood products industry based on ecologically beneficial forest management would provide immediate economic impacts, particularly in the form of in-the-woods employment. Furthermore, if done right, a real retooling of the industry will provide greater economic impacts in the future and have Southeast Alaska poised to capitalize on the anticipated marketization of ecosystem services such as carbon storage and other environmental offset markets.


Evan Hjerpe
Resource Economist
The Wilderness Society
Alaska Regional Office

Received April 03, 2009 - Published April 06, 2009

Related News:

Murkowski Proposes Southeast Initiative to Aid Regional Economy; Effort Includes Timber Industry Retooling and Landless Native Compensation Bills

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