Story last updated at 6/10/2009 - 1:35 pm
You need to hear and understand the story of two little boys in Coffman Cove. These two little boys are supported by a logger, a "faller" to be exact. His paychecks earned from the timber industry work he does provides for these two little boys and their mother.
These two little boys are vitally important to the future of Coffman Cove, to the future of the school here, and to the infrastructure, other jobs, and many businesses across Prince of Wales Island. How can two little boys from Coffman Cove be that important to a regional economy?
In the next few weeks, the Tongass National Forest is going to release the Logjam timber sale for bids. The awarding of this contract will keep about 150 people employed full time on Prince of Wales, and indirectly impact businesses and jobs in neighboring communities, like Ketchikan.
Regardless of who gets the contract, the logger who supports these two little boys will work full-time hours and then some, and his family will be able to stay in Coffman Cove. If for some reason, however, the timber sale is delayed for any length of time, and he can not work, this is what will happen:
If there is no work, they all have to move. No biggie, right, since it is only one job, you say. The two little boys are students number 10 and 11 at the Coffman Cove public school - and the school only has 11 students. According to State regulations, in order to maintain funding for a public school, the school must have a minimum enrollment of 10 students. With the two little boys gone, the school is down to nine students and they do not qualify for state funding. If they do not qualify for state funding, the teacher cannot stay. When the teacher leaves, his two children leave as well, bringing the number of students down to seven.
You can imagine the rest for yourself: fewer employed people equals fewer groceries and gas sold, more local businesses (making less money) being forced to close - the health clinic cutting back on full-time employees because there are fewer and fewer patients; fewer local businesses means less support for local recreation-based tourism, so fewer people travel to POW, so more businesses go under.
It is a classic domino effect. And the first two dominos are those two little boys from Coffman Cove - my grandsons.
In the end, communities like Coffman Cove all across southeast Alaska will become boarded up ghost towns, thanks to the staunch environmentalists who will no doubt oppose the Logjam timber sale for the sake of trees that many of them have never seen before. At least I have not seen them come through Coffman Cove to ask us what the impact would be from stopping or blocking the timber sale.
From what I understand, the Tongass is about 15 years away from being able to move into young growth areas for marketable timber. Between then and now, if there are no trees available for the local family-owned mills, like Viking Lumber in Klawock, the effect I described above will happen not just here, but to a dozen communities and hundreds of jobs across southeast Alaska, from Ketchikan to Hoonah.
Environmental groups have been demanding that the Tongass stop cutting old growth trees and start looking to young growth timber. But until the Tongass can start to offer young growth stands of timber, they need to have about 15 years of timber available to keep the local mills in business - and keep many communities like Coffman Cove alive in the meantime.
What happens in the meantime? I'll have to watch and see what the future holds for Coffman Cove if the Logjam sale and the timber industry are hog-tied by lawsuits and appeals. And I'll have to watch it from a distance, because if my grandsons - the two little boys from Coffman Cove - have to leave because of the environmental groups' onslaught over a few trees, I will probably be leaving, too.
It is a shame that these groups cannot see what the forest means to us, or how much work goes into planning and developing these sales - but then they don't make their living here, either.
Elaine Price, Coffman Cove
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