The Juneau Empires’ misleading puff-pieces for the resource extraction industries last week painted a rosy but misleading picture of Southeast Alaska’s economic future. Repeating industry talking points without any comparison to the actual facts, the stories treat timber as though it were still a viable industry, even though timber has not made up more than 1% of Southeast’s economy for many years. Mining is repeatedly described as a bright spot, something that will solve Southeast’s economic problems. Southeast Conference’s own numbers prove that mining and timber are mere asterisks to our real economic powerhouses.
Southeast’s economy is based on fishing and tourism. In every single town from Metlakatla to Skagway, they are the biggest private sector employers. Both promise clean, sustainable, good paying jobs for generations to come. One problem with timber and mining is that they threaten the true economic engines of our region, which are our abundant fisheries and wilderness. Southeast Conference does important work promoting our fisheries and visitor industries, but they should not be misled by big promises from outside corporations, many of them foreign.
The era of big timber is over. Continued attempts to bring big timber back to life are a waste of taxpayer money. Period. Mining, while potentially a part of our future economy, must be conducted in the most conservative and well-regulated manner possible. If you don’t believe me, look at the price tags for cleaning up the Ross-Adams mine, the Klagg Bay mine, or the Tulsequah Chief mine. The potential costs to our fisheries and our tourism industry are too high. Can we trust mining corporations to do what is best for our communities instead of what is best for their bottom lines? If you haven’t seen the “Pebble Tapes” you should watch them. Even if all of these proposed mines were developed in Southeast, the economic effect would still be minuscule compared to our fisheries and tourism industries, but at what risk?
Meanwhile, missing from this conversation is how we can invest in and protect our existing economic engines. Our fisheries and tourism industry have the potential to power our economy in perpetuity, but both are under direct assault from mismanagement and misinformation. Tourism is at a standstill in Southeast and it’s recovery depends on a well managed response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our fisheries are being impacted by a warming ocean, and their future depends on a bold plan for climate change. Both crises can be addressed effectively if our elected leadership listens to science and mobilizes our nation’s considerable resources.
Our region is globally unique, a special archipelago of thousands of islands, clean water, abundant fisheries and vast wilderness. Although our region is resilient, unless we start taking science seriously, on climate change, on COVID-19 and the effects of mining and clear cutting on our sustainable economy, we are at serious risk of literally undermining the very foundations of our communities.
• Art Bloom is a Juneau resident. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.