Alaska’s Tongass National Forest has Tremendous Value Beyond Timber

Emerald Bay in Tongass National Forest, Alaska. Photo by Sitka, Conservation Society.

A recent report from The Wilderness Society shows that the Tongass National Forest contributes more than $2 billion to local economies through non-timber uses, such as recreation and tourism, commercial salmon fishing, subsistence and scientific research.

These activities depend on wilderness characteristics of the land, including clean water, healthy salmon streams and old-growth forests. Yet, by managing the Tongass primarily for timber extraction, the Forest Service may be jeopardizing local economies, according to the report Greater Than Zero: Toward the Total Economic Value of Alaska’s National Forest Wildlands.

Currently, management of America’s largest national forest focuses heavily on cutting timber and falls short of balancing multiple uses. The Wilderness Society has filed a legal appeal of the Forest Service’s management plan for the Tongass, and one of our main arguments focuses on economics.

In 2007, we completed a report explaining how the Forest Service grossly overestimates market demand for Tongass timber. Yet, the Forest Service continues to direct more resources to timber sales, which require substantial taxpayer subsidies and divert funding away from other important uses and values on the forest.

In addition to our legal challenge of the Tongass plan, Wilderness Society staff in Alaska are looking for other solutions for the Tongass. As part of a collaborative group that includes other conservation groups and Forest Service staff, we are working to demonstrate examples of more sustainable forest management approaches.

We believe one important solution for the Tongass forest is a management plan that properly accounts for actual market conditions and the value of forest resources such as wildlife, healthy watersheds and standing forests—qualities that are often found in roadless areas.

The Tongass and the people of Alaska deserve a better Land Management Plan—one that moves away from what has for decades been an almost exclusive focus on timber.