Editorial: Tongass NF bill would allow too much clearcutting

(Richard Gard, Juneau Empire) — The 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act passed by Congress gives Sealaska Corp the right to select some 85,000 acres of Tongass National Forest land in clearly defined areas in Southeast Alaska. However, Senate Bill 881 would change the areas from which Sealaska could make its selections to include more economically valuable land such as old-growth forest.

Many of these tracts are near small villages on Prince of Wales Island where most residents survive by hunting, fishing, subsistence and guiding. In Southeast Alaska, deer require old-growth forests in which to overwinter, salmon production is highest from streams in unlogged watersheds and tourists prefer pristine forests. If national forest lands near POW villages are placed in private ownership, villagers will suffer greatly. Some may have to leave the homes they worked hard to establish.

Sealaska leaders have said they would clearcut many of the tracts they would select. Clearcutting would produce high monetary returns for a few years, but the devastated land would yield little income for many years. Deer and salmon populations would plummet and who would pay to hunt among the stumps? Instead, Sealaska could selectively harvest a moderate number of trees each year for use in local mills and cottage industries. Fish and wildlife populations would remain high and recreationists would continue to pay to visit a largely intact forest. Total long-term return from a moderate yearly income would be higher than that from an occasional bonanza.

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