By MALENA MARVIN
FOR THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
According to Southeast Conference, Southeast Alaska’s economy is increasingly stable, diverse and strong. Bolstered by the powerful twin engines of fishing and tourism — drawing $1 billion each to the region annually — the Tongass is not unlike the proverbial goose that is laying golden eggs.
With a board, staff and thousands of supporters all living and working between Ketchikan and Yakutat, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is fully invested in the economic future of the region.
We too are raising families here and want our kids to be able to live and work in Southeast Alaska. We too value livelihoods based on natural resources. Not only am I the executive director of SEACC, I also fish with my partner, a commercial power troller who’s fished out of Petersburg for the past 13 years. As one of Alaska’s fishing families, we recognize that our industry requires clean water and healthy fisheries to stay viable. I do my job at SEACC to ensure the future of our family business and the ability of our children to make a living off the land and sea.
SEACC has consistently supported a dozen locally-owned small sawmills with brochures, videos and advertising. We’ve also collaborated on innovative community forestry projects that keep timber dollars in the region. Recognizing that our communities need diverse and sustainable income streams, we’ve supported Ketchikan’s Alaska Ship and Drydock and have hired staff tasked with growing Wrangell’s marine services capacity and supporting its expanded shipyard and marine travel lift.
We support Southeast Alaska’s $1 billion commercial fishing industry, now the most lucrative and productive salmon fishery in all of Alaska, which according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski provides more local household incomes than timber, mining, oil and gas combined. We also support tourism, the region’s second largest economic driver, using our materials to promote local charter and recreational businesses.
Like most Alaskans, we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the same unique way of life and bright economic prospects we do. To ensure this, we believe economic development today should not come at the expense of economic development tomorrow. Similarly, one industry should not “pollute the waters” of another industry. And if we are to keep our communities strong and vibrant, profits from industry should stay in the region with local people working together to chart the path of development in their communities.
While we work hard to support development that meet these common sense criteria, projects still get proposed that have limited economic benefits to the region, threaten future economic prosperity or undercut other vital economic activity. The Big Thorne timber sale is one of these projects.
We agree with the Juneau Empire that “there are better plans out there, ones that don’t subscribe to the historical practice of clear-cutting.” Indeed, there is widespread, popular support for moving forward with a forest plan that builds on our region’s economic success by helping, not harming, our real economic drivers: fishing and tourism.
Southeast Conference reports that timber brought in just $17 million to the region in 2013, less than 1 percent of fishing and tourism’s combined $2 billion, and below even our region’s arts sector in economic value. Meanwhile, American taxpayers are subsidizing the export-oriented Tongass timber program at $20 million per year — $130,000 per Tongass timber job — as the New York Times recently reported. While our taxpayers swallow a net economic loss, our old-growth forests are shipped back to us from Asia as profitable products.
If the goal is prosperous communities on the Tongass, the Tongass National Forest’s budget would be better invested sustaining fisheries, expanding recreation opportunities for locals and paying visitors and setting up small mill owners and restoration crews to transition to primarily young-growth timber for local markets. Sure, selective old-growth logging will always have a place on the Tongass, but let’s make sure we maximize jobs per log cut at small mills around the region rather than export our remaining old-growth — and jobs — at an unsustainable rate.
Community forestry has a vital, if supplemental, economic role to play in Southeast Alaska. The good news is that a local wood industry is compatible not only with fishing and tourism, but also with forest management for wildlife and hunting. If the Forest Service, the state of Alaska and local people work together, we can remove the remaining economic barriers — ending round log exports, for one — to a sustainable forest products industry in which local families have stable employment processing local wood for local markets.
We won’t get there if the Forest Service’s “Tongass transition” continues to pour public money into divisive old-growth clearcuts that export local jobs.
Southeast Alaska’s natural resources can provide unparalleled economic opportunities for local people for generations to come, if we spend wisely and make smart management decisions. Instead of cooking the goose that lays our golden eggs, let’s lay the foundation for future economic prosperity.
Malena Marvin is the Executive Director of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.