The Wilderness Society strongly opposes legislation that was proposed by Senator Lisa Murkowski yesterday in the United State Senate and by Representative Don Young in the House. Commonly called the Sealaska Lands Bill, the proposed law would threaten the real economic engines of Southeast Alaska—fishing, recreation, and tourism—and would gut the U.S. Forest Service’s vision for the Tongass, America’s largest national forest.
“Privatizing thousands of acres of old growth forest at the expense of salmon habitat and clean water will do nothing to sustain rural communities in the Tongass,” said Austin Williams, Alaska Forest Program Manager for The Wilderness Society. “In fact, these Southeast Alaska communities will pay for increased old-growth harvest and export through declines in revenue and jobs from fisheries and recreation.”
In a recent study, The Wilderness Society found that restoration-based management of the Tongass will actually have greater long-term economic benefits than old-growth logging, with little short-term economic impact. Under a management plan based on restoration, federal money would support riparian and forest restoration while timber production would come from already-disturbed second-growth stands without the need for continued subsidization of unsustainable old-growth logging.
“Recreation, tourism and commercial fishing provide much more revenue than logging in Southeast Alaska today,” said TWS Resource Economist Evan Hjerpe, who authored the report. “If the Sealaska bill is passed and new sections of old-growth forest are opened to logging, these important industries would be threatened.”
The forests and streams of the Tongass provide a host of vital services, including clean water, salmon and deer habitat and carbon storage. Recognizing the value of these resources, in May 2010 the U.S. Forest service committed to developing a Transition Framework for the Tongass that would diversify economic opportunities through restoration, recreation, fisheries, and renewable energy, while conserving important old-growth forest stands.
“Unfortunately, the Sealaska bill ignores the Forest Service’s vision and the economic realities of Southeast Alaska,” said Williams. “It is a step backward in forest management, and will force future generations to live without the economic and ecological benefits of a healthy Tongass.”