A representative of a timber industry group visited the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce Wednesday. He expressed support for Governor Sean Parnell’s vision for the Tongass National Forest, but a regional conservation group doesn’t think that plan will go anywhere.
Owen Graham of the Alaska Forest Association drew a sharp contrast with the federal government’s stance on the future of the Tongass National Forest.
The U.S. government, which he says owns 94 percent of the land in Southeast Alaska, has been working in recent years to reduce the harvest of old-growth trees. Graham, a representative from the pro-timber AFA, insists that the only way to revive the logging industry in the region is to adopt a plan proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell and Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
That plan would transfer 2 million acres — roughly 12 percent of the Tongass — to the state of Alaska, and those acres then would be available for harvest. Graham notes that while moving the plan forward would be difficult, particularly with resistance from wildlife groups, there aren’t many other options.
“Realistically, they aren’t going to be allowed to restore the timber supply as long as you’ve got this political will in Washington DC to pacify these environmental groups,” Graham told the Chamber. “That’s a heavy lift to ask our congressional delegation, but that’s really the only real answer to what’s going on.”
Environmental groups in Alaska oppose Governor Parnell’s proposal to transfer federal forest lands to the state. Bob Claus, Forest Program Director with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, says the plan has no hope in Congress.
“The proposal, for one, is dead on arrival,” Claus says. “There is no interest in Cognress or anywhere to make such a thing happen. It’s posturing by the governor, a plan to return to failed policies.”
Claus notes that a deal between the state, federal government and environmental groups is not out of the question. But, he says, the lack of compromise isn’t the fault of conservation groups.
“There’s always a possibility for a compromise. but the state and the Alaska Forest Association has walked away from any table where we were talking directly,” he says. “So it’s very difficult to see how that would happen today.”
Graham’s pitch to the Chamber of Commerce was met with enthusiasm by Ketchikan’s business community. Borough Assembly Member Glen Thompson stood up during the Q & A portion of the talk and said that, while an admittedly radical idea, he supports the transfer of all of the Tongass from the federal government to Alaska. His remarks were met by applause from many in the crowd.
Graham told the Chamber that logging’s decline in Southeast has had a drastic effect on communities. He says that unless the industry is revived, the slide will continue.
“All over Southeast Alaska the demographics have changed. We lost 3 – 4 thousand jobs out of our timber industry and those people, most of them had nowhere to go, some of them had to leave Alaska,” Graham said. “The less and less development we have, the less mining, the less mining, the fewer of those people we are going to have and the demographics are going to change.”
Graham urged everyone to support his group’s push to have the federal government adopt the governor’s proposal for the Tongass