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Selling the Crown Jewels
By K.J. Metcalf


June 15, 2005

Supervisor Forrest Cole stated in his "State of the Tongass" letter, "The Tongass National Forest is one of the 'crown jewels' of public lands and we intend to keep it that way." Supervisor Cole cannot possibly fly over Prince of Wales, Baranof and Chichagof Islands, Yakutat and numerous other Southeast areas and look at the thousands of miles of roads, hundreds of thousands of acres of clearcuts, and ravaged watersheds and say we have treated these "crown jewels" with respect or care.

Cole gave us his spin on the numbers: dollars spent supporting logging, miles of roads, and claims about just logging a small percentage of the Tongass. I will continue to dispute the Forest Service and the timber industry's numbers. Numbers can be very slippery, and are often moving targets. Even the Forest Service website contradicts some of Cole's numbers.

Cole tried to blame lawsuits for preventing the Forest Service from offering more than a third of the timber the mills wanted last year. Yet 50% of the Forest Service sales offered between 1998 and 2004 went unsold. Last year, operators returned twenty sales to the Forest Service because they couldn't make a profit on the wood. Those millions of dollars subsidizing the industry through logging road construction didn't help at all.

However, the health of the forest, not numbers, is the real issue. The relatively rare old-growth stands of large trees, prized by the timber industry, are also the most biologically rich areas of the forest-the areas that support the bulk of the forest's plant and animal life.

The Tongass of 2005 is but a remnant of the forests of the early 1900s, or the Tongass I first saw in 1962. Today almost a million acres of old growth forest have been clearcut from Southeast Alaska's rainforest. Clearcutting on National Forest land and on lands selected by Native corporations has led to a tragic loss of some of the world's best fish and wildlife habitat. It has resulted in the loss of subsistence resources, the devastation of breathtaking river valleys, and has wounded the world's largest remaining temperate rainforest. This is a fact confirmed by scientists.

Supervisor Cole asks us to trust the Forest Service to be stewards of the "Crown Jewels." Then he pushes to auction off some of the last true gems of the forest. Who trusts a steward like that?

K. James Metcalf
Juneau, AK - USA



Related Viewpoint:

letter The State of the Tongass By Forrest Cole - May 20, 2005


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