Restoring forests better for Tongass economy

Jan 25, 2011

In the last decade, the US Forest Service has placed timber harvest in southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest above all other priorities in the region, pouring federal dollars into the timber industry’s clearcutting of old growth forests. A new report from The Wilderness Society outlines a fresh vision for management of the Tongass—one based on ecological restoration and stewardship.

“Given its national importance and global uniqueness, the Tongass is deserving of ample federal appropriations,” said The Wilderness Society economist Evan Hjerpe. “However, these federal appropriations could be focused on promoting both economic and ecological sustainability - as opposed to the current timber management system focused on economic impacts at the cost of ecological sustainability.”

Although many Southeast Alaskan communities grew and developed around the timber industry, today the region’s timber revenue is in decline and the industry accounts for less than one percent of local jobs—in fact, revenue from recreation, tourism and commercial fishing far exceed that from timber.

“The U.S. Forest Service has recognized this disconnect and the value of natural resources beyond timber,” said TWS Deputy Regional Director Karen Hardigg.  “Commendably, Regional Forester Beth Pendleton and her staff have initiated a Transition Framework that seeks to diversify economic opportunities for rural communities in the form of restoration, recreation, fisheries, renewable energy, and other activities.”

In the report, Hjerpe uses economic impact analysis to compare the current situation, modeled after the last eight years of Tongass timber planning supported by federal funds, and an innovative “Restoration Scenario,” in which federal dollars are divided between much needed riparian restoration, forest restoration, and management of second growth forests.

The results show that a transition to this restoration-based vision would ultimately provide greater and more enduring fiscal benefits, and would have a minimal immediate impact on the economy of Southeast Alaska. Under the new management system, most timber production would come from the stewardship and restoration of second growth stands, while regional businesses would be contracted for stream restoration work. The change would also diversify Southeast economies, leaving them better able to withstand future market fluctuations. 

Beyond these considerable economic benefits, a restoration-based management plan would provide a number of non-market services—such as carbon storage and wildlife habitat—that are difficult to measure, but essential to the communities of Southeast Alaska.

“With a new approach to forest management like the vision Pendleton has laid out, the Tongass can provide a wealth of fiscal, ecological, and intrinsic benefits to the communities of Southeast Alaska—and far beyond—that will survive for generations to come,” said Hardigg. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Forest Service, communities, and our partners to develop a viable transition strategy.”

Read the report