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We can’t help but think U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell might have been joshing when he wrote that, with the planned 15-year transition from old- to young-growth harvesting of Tongass National Forest timber, “Finally, we can move beyond the controversial debate on old-growth forests and focus our resources on supporting jobs.”
Wouldn’t that be nice?
It seems that, as much as the industry has constricted since the closing of the Ketchikan Pulp Mill in 1997, logging remains a lightning-rod issue that’s easy for everyone to get their arms around. Logging equals good or evil, depending on one’s point of view, and there’s little room for in-between.
So even though the eventual aim is to stop old-growth logging — a goal embraced by many environmentalists — the offering of a sale that will bridge the time until the young-growth is adequate will not be without its impediments.
The Big Thorne sale, announced this past week only two days before the USDA came out with its Tongass transition plan, aims to offer nearly 140 million board feet near Thorne Bay and Coffman Cove. Although the first of the Big Thorne sale theoretically could be in the hands of a successful bidder by fall, even Tongass Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole acknowledges that appeals are likelier than logging in such an immediate future.
Appeals can delay and short-circuit any sort of harvest, and usually do. Big Thorne is unlikely to buck that trend. When asked about the likelihood of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council’s filing an appeal to the Big Thorne Sale, SEACC’s Bob Claus over on Prince of Wales Island didn’t dither: “It would be hard to imagine that a sale of this size or scope wouldn’t have something that we would take issue with.”
Yes, it is hard to imagine. Yet as old-growth logging winds down, people still love wood for an almost infinite variety of uses. As well as making it into lumber to build our houses, our forest supplies us with just the sort of value-added possibilities the anti-logging folks say they embrace wholeheartedly.
Probably there are aspects of the Big Thorne sale that can be improved on; the Forest Service will look at appeals to see whether its plan takes that into account. And surely there are advantages to getting the sale underway, and along with it the transition to the young-growth harvests the environmentalist have said they seek.
Perhaps, this time, we all can get along, and make this sale work for all of us.
We can hope.