Letter: The real timber industry numbers

Mr Graham’s response to The Boat Company is so wrong on so many levels. If he thinks that the U.S. Forest Service that loses 98 cents on every dollar spent on his behalf is not a timber subsidy, then perhaps we should agree it is just an outrageous unmerited gift.

Notwithstanding the federal gift, Mr. Graham’s industry will now be getting a handout from the state — where we get to lose only 95 cents on the dollar. So the state forester is correct. Alaska can indeed do it a little better. We are in a $4.1 billion fiscal hole that is getting deeper, and that is not to say anything about the non-renewable old-growth being exported as logs that support milling jobs out of state.

Also, it is time to correct a couple of Mr. Graham’s frequent falsehoods — that the Forest Service does not spend $30 million-plus annually on its timber program. It does and this equates to quarter of a million dollars or so, per Tongass-dependent timber job. Mr. Graham simply reports the direct program expenditures and ignores the agency’s overhead costs to carry out the timber and build roads. But then again, in his view the timber industry is not subsidized. Also, costs for Environmental Impact Statements are significant but only a small percentage of the total timber program expenditures.

Similar to ignoring large associated timber costs, Mr Graham asserts that there are 5.6 million acres of Tongass commercial forest lands, a misnomer perpetuated since the days of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980 (ANILCA). In ANILCA, the Tongass is exempted from an economic suitability analysis of these 5.6 million acres. Consequently, much of this forest is in truth uneconomic for timber, even with large subsidies for road building and administering timber sales.

So, the 5.6 million acres is “commercial” in name only. In fact, economic timber is becoming scarce and can only be offered if it is primarily for log exports, the government builds most of the roads and the public is willing to lose 95-98 cents on each program dollar. That doesn’t include the adverse impacts to fish, wildlife and tourism.

Lastly, in terms of fact-checking, the true numbers come directly from state and federal agencies. We have them on file and we can argue their validity at any time, any place and in any forum.

Hunter McItosh, President, The Boat Company

Joe Mehrkens, former Regional Economist and board member of GSACC.