Timber Industry Retooling
By Evan Hjerpe
April 06, 2009
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
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
The Wilderness Society
Alaska Regional Office
Received April 03, 2009 - Published
April 06, 2009
Murkowski Proposes Southeast Initiative
to Aid Regional Economy; Effort Includes Timber Industry Retooling
and Landless Native Compensation Bills
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