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Thoughts on the ‘Roadless Rule’ from a small timber operator

  • Author: Gordon Chew
    | Opinion
  • Updated: November 7
  • Published November 7

A section of the Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. (US Forest Service photo)

Our company, Tenakee Logging, is a small, family-owned and -run business that both works and lives here in the Tongass National Forest. Our business model is based on looking forward and making sure we are leaving a viable land base for the next generation. We do not participate in mass resource extraction, but instead utilize a selective and a therefore sustainable approach to cutting in the national forest. Along with the forest service, we go to great lengths to leave a viable stand of timber in every one of our small cutting units.

Living, working, hunting and fishing in this "salmon forest" has taught us many lessons, but the big one is that we must never go back to the disastrous forestry practices that have so negatively impacted the salmon runs of the Lower 48 through the destruction of their habitat. Clear-cutting is a process of deforestation, and the Tongass remains the only national forest in which this practice is still allowed and utilized on our irreplaceable old growth stands. It is past time that the forest service put a stop to it, and it can do so by maintaining the current 2016 Tongass Land Management Plan, which phases out this destructive practice. Better yet, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue could work with the forest service to speed up the transition to young growth harvest, instead of sabotaging the transition altogether by repealing the Roadless Rule.

The Tongass 77 project has identified the remaining highly productive, intact salmon- and trout-producing watersheds here in Southeast Alaska; an incredible seven of them are here in Tenakee Inlet. That means almost 10 percent of the last highly productive, intact watersheds in this national forest are right outside our front door.

These watersheds and the broader "salmon forest" support the two fastest-growing industries in our state: Both tourism and the commercial fishing industries have taken their stand to protect and defend this national treasure. So what is driving the state to pursue an Alaska specific change to the protections already in place? The only answer that I can come up with are industrial logging and mining. These two industries, minuscule in comparison to the employment and revenue of tourism and fishing, seem to be driving the effort to weaken the protections already in place.

We will only support a "no action" alternative to any attempt to roll back Roadless Rule protections, making it easier to harm this fragile ecosystem. Having already lost so much of the best timber in the "high grading" approach to extraction, it is clear that more protections are needed, not less.

In conclusion, I hope the forest service and the state will consider the potential effects of retracting or re-writing our Roadless Rule to favor these heavy-impact industries: The forest and the salmon have our advocacy, and they will need yours too.

Gordon Chew runs the Tenakee Logging Company in Southeast Alaska.

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