I’m a lifelong Southeast Alaskan, commercial fishermen and union tradesman with a background in rural living and aquaculture. I’ve hiked and hunted through the aftermath of commercial logging from Juneau to Prince of Wales Island, from open brush pits to sterile black pole forests. The results speak for themselves: the Tongass isn’t as resilient as the Lower 48 forests we are arbitrarily modeled after.
The University of Alaska apparently aims to sell off 13,000 acres of land in the Haines area for logging in exchange for $10 million over 10 years of time (KHNS). But how important would $10 million be, in relation to the rest of the University of Alaska budget? According to the University of Alaska FY17 Budget Summary, the operating budget of University is in the hundreds of millions every year. Ten million dollars over 10 years won’t make a dent in any University of Alaska budget needs, but it will potentially destroy 13,000 acres of old-growth forests* forever (*there is no apparent way for the general public to know what sort of forests are on the proposed lands, since the University has stated no intent to perform an Environmental Impact Statement).
In addition, “the type of logging that would take place … would be a mix of clear-cut, shelterwood, and patch cut logging, depending on the size of the unit and the type and quality of the timber” (KHNS). Clear cutting destroys habitat for valuable commercial, charter, subsistence and personal use activities. This means that the Haines 10-year timber sale has the potential to threaten the income, job security and food security of thousands of Haines-area residents. Is that worth $10 million dollars for the University of Alaska and the hypothetical “40-45” jobs that the logging may provide over 10 years of time? I don’t think so.
Having lived in Southeast Alaska my entire life, I know that there are many ways to generate long-term revenue through responsibly using resources. But logging is not a high-profit or sustainable industry in Southeast Alaska.
A 2003 Department of Labor report explains that the long-term competitiveness of the Alaskan logging industry has been declining (due to the remote location and high costs of harvesting), overtaken by the increasing share of tree farming on the global market. Other evidence suggests that logging in the Tongass is so costly that if subsidies were removed, each tree would actually cost taxpayers money. I have seen what clear-cut logging can do in the region and it is the epitome of irreparable damage without gains. There is no place for large-scale logging in Southeast Alaska’s economy. Our old-growth trees are most valuable when they stay in the ground.
If the University of Alaska wants $10 million, it is not necessary to destroy irreplaceable swaths of the Tongass forest. Other timber landholders around the state are already altering focus to invest in keeping trees in the ground. In 2016, the Chugach Alaska Corporation made a deal to preserve old-growth forests on their land, in exchange for participating in California’s carbon credit program. In 2018, Sealaska Corporation received approval to designate 165,000 acres of forested land in the Tongass for use as another carbon bank in the California program. The best part? They will still be able to access their lands for non-timber hunting, fishing, harvesting, traditional activities, and even other forms of development.
I urge the University of Alaska to maintain ownership of the 13,000 acres in the proposed Haines 10-year timber sale and invest in the living forest instead. Set up a carbon bank forest where University students can study and conduct fieldwork. Charge fees to allow tourist companies to bring visitors to see the unique area. Allow for other sources of development to take place and reap the long-term investment benefits that the Tongass has always offered.
The University of Alaska is accepting public comment about the “Haines 10-year timber sale” until 5 p.m. May 22 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Malachi Thorington is a Juneau resident.