SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


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.

Keith Stump
Ketchikan, AK

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


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letterTimber Industry Retooling By Evan Hjerpe

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