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The good people that live around Willow could be excused for thinking Mother Nature was out to get them on Monday.

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The law is the law; authorities swear to uphold it.

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8/23/2014
Timber survival

The whittling continues.

The U.S. Forest Service announced it would offer the Big Thorne timber sale on Prince of Wales Island this week; only hours later, conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging it.

It's the story of the timber industry's struggles to survive in recent decades. Conservationists file; the sale is delayed while waiting for a lawsuit to make its way through the court system.

In the meantime, the industry cannot harvest the timber, and jobs aren't available to those who work in the industry. The whole intent is to end harvests of old-growth timber, and the effect is that the industry is a shadow of what it once was.

Given that situation, the conservation groups can already claim victory. Such a win, however, isn't enough. The groups won't be satisfied until no old-growth is offered for sale.

While some might think that would bring an end to the groups' assault on the industry, others are much more skeptical when conservationists indicate support of young-growth timber harvest.

The Big Thorne sale would include 98 million board feet of timber immediately. A September award had been planned. Then, later, another 40 million board feet would be included. That's about 6,000 acres of old growth and 2,000 acres of young growth.

While it is a large sale, it isn't nearly the size of past sales that had the industry thriving three decades earlier.

The timber industry operated in conjunction with fishing, tourism and recreation in the Tongass. Co-existence has been, and in many circles still is, Alaska's goal — multiple uses in the national forest.

Conservation groups also filed a lawsuit against the Tongass Land Management Plan, arguing that it fails to preserve the habitat of deer and wolves.

Of course, whatever timber harvest's effect on habitat, it isn't the only factor to be taken into consideration when looking at protecting deer and wolves — even hunters and trappers recognize that.

The court should move quickly to address these lawsuits. Alaskans and their livelihoods are depending on a just outcome that doesn't continue to whittle the timber industry into extinction.