Story last updated at 6/24/2009 - 10:45 am
Note: this letter is in response to the letter from Elaine Price printed in the June 10 issue of the CCW, "Logging cuts affect every community member."
The real-life illustration provided by Elaine Price, of the downside to the halt of logging timber from the Tongass National Forest, could not have been better stated.
For the past 30 years, I have worked to sustain, restore and improve the condition of the natural resources across Southeast Alaska with some of the most capable resource specialists on the planet. I have worked on every Forest Plan Revision and Amendment since 1987, and seen countless opponents at the plaintiffs table in court cases repeatedly clamoring for the Tongass to get out of old growth - saying that we need to help local communities move into recreation and tourism economies and get away from dependence on timber.
Well, here we are - the Tongass timber program is just now entering a 15- to 20-year transition phase that will see us move from old growth and roadless areas, into young growth roaded areas on hundreds of thousands of acres. We worked with dozens of groups, including the Tongass Futures Roundtable members and subcommittees, to form the 2008 Forest Plan Amendment. We developed and are implementing the Adaptive Management Strategy for planning and pursuing responsible and reasonable timber harvests that match the capabilities of the local, family-owned mills.
The Tongass timber program is designed to get us to the young growth management that the environmental groups have been demanding since the early 1990s. Now we are at the beginning of that transition. Timber sales like the pending Orion North and Logjam sales (neither of which are part of the Roadless Rule classification of November 2000) set the stage for our move into young growth management and harvests.
We will announce the decision on the Logjam Sale in the next couple of weeks. I promise to keep you informed about the process, including who appeals or litigates this sale. The new administration wants government to be open and transparent - to engage the public. So on the Logjam sale, we will be as open about all aspects of it as we legally can, so you know the whole story and who stands where on this issue. You can check on our Tongass web page for these updates as they occur and we will make the media aware as new events occur.
I do this because just as we enter this new period in the Forest's vegetation management history, we face the potential loss for timber harvests, wood products utilization, and biomass or alternative fuels projects across the entire region forever. Anyone in the industry will tell you what that would mean: once the industry in Southeast Alaska is gone, it won't come back.
As goes the small, family-owned timber industry in Southeast Alaska, so go the small communities, including schools. As Elaine Price poignantly pointed out, the loss of jobs means the loss of entire families; and with the loss of families comes the loss of students, including her two grandsons, the two little boys from Coffman Cove.
If there are not enough students in these small communities, state funding for schools will be cut, making it even more difficult for families not directly employed by the timber industry to stay.
If the Southeast Alaska timber industry perishes, the sleepy community of Coffman Cove, and others like it, could become a distant memory for those who live there, and for all of us.
Forrest Cole, Tongass National Forest Supervisor
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