RE: Timber Industry Retooling
By Keith Stump
April 16, 2009
I read, with some dismay and perhaps even some amusement, Mr.
Hjerpe's attempt to pan Sen. Murkowski's Southeast Alaska Timber
Industry Retooling and Restructuring Act. Amused by yet another
OIE ("Outside Instant Expert") postulating and perpetuating
ad nauseam something somebody told them was true (but really
isn't), and dismayed that others with equal ignorance will possibly
believe it and extend the vicious cycle of propaganda.
With all due deference to Dr. Hjerpe, it is his conclusion (that
Sen. Murkowski misrepesents the cause of SE Alaska's timber industry's
decline) that actually misses the mark. In fact, federal policy
changes are both what enabled the timber and pulp industry to
flourish during the infancy of our statehood, and what felled
it before it reached it's prime.
Although the Wilderness Society's Alaska Resource Economist properly
identifies some factors effecting the industry, he fails to support
his initial assertion (Murkowski "misrepresents")and
his conclusion (unsustainable timber practices and market factors
caused the industry's demise).
Alaska's distance from major markets, infantile infrastructure,the
resulting high costs of communications and transportation, and
many if not most of the "number of market-driven factors"
Hjerpe alludes to, have always, and will likely for the foreseeable
future, effect Alaska's timber industry, mining industry, fishing
industry, and in fact, all its industries (including tourism).
The competitive disadvantages he cites impacted the industry
when it grew and developed even moreso than when the industry
was cut off at its knees in the late '80's and early '90's by
Clinton Administration policies. With supportive instead of
intentionally destructive government policies, the Panhandle
could still have a stabilizing, year-round employer paying out
wages a cut above that offered by the seasonal tourism industry
that has replaced it.
The "tree species with lower value in timber markets"
he refers to is hemlock, and indeed it is a lower value wood,
with its principle market being to make pulp. Being a particularly
shade tolerant tree, it dominates the old-growth and decaying
forests found in Southeast Alaska. (Which is why Alaska's Territorial
Governor Heintzleman (along with his predecessor, Ernest Gruening)
worked with the U.S. federal government to develop a viable,
year-round pulp industry that could utilize the pulp grade timber
predominant in the Tongass National Forest.) But when old growth
(aka "over mature") stands succumb to bug infestation,
fire or blow-down (as it always must) or when it is harvested
(as it could be if Washington, D.C. would let it), the natural
regrowth in Southeast Alaska grows a far greater percentage of
high value spruce. Contrary to Hjerpe's assertion that the industry
decline was due to, in part, "a long history of unsustainable
high-grading of the biggest and best trees," by
logging over-mature, decaying, primarily hemlock stands, the
industry was creating a better, greener, healthier forest for
the future. (And one that would be more valuable and competitive
in the world market.)
The young doctor of philosophy from the Lower 48 is equally inaccurate
when he infers that the difficulty in obtaining "economic
timber" is only the result of having already logged "the
most valuable and accessible timber" already. What was,
and remains a far greater factor in obtaining economically viable
timber from the Tongass National Forest is the maze of (many
unnecessary and ecologically invalid) federal regulations concocted
by both misinformed, well-meaning individuals, and others who
believe they can justify their misleading means with their arrogant
ends. (For example, the preservationist who unabashedly submitted
photos (to a U.S. Senate subcommittee) of a natural blow-down
into a creek far from any logging activity and represented them
to be representative of logging practices in the Tongass.)
There are other statements in Mr. Hjerpe's letter that should
be viewed critically, but dealing with decades old misrepresentations
is very tiresome.
About: "Born and raised
and lived in Ketchikan for about half a century. Produced a
short movie entitled "The Story of Alaska's Sawmills."
Sailed away about when the Pulp Mill shut down. Don't get to
visit as much as I'd like. "
Received April 13, 2009 - Published
April 16, 2009
Industry Retooling By Evan Hjerpe
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