OPINION: A timber town calls out the state’s climate credit double standard

The Southeast Alaska community of Whale Pass opposes a 292-acre sale of old-growth forest and instead prefers the economic benefits of tourism and carbon credits. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioner dismisses the idea of potentially gaining millions (estimates are $1.3 million to $6.8 million) in carbon offsets. Despite the fact that logging will almost certainly make less money and is less than 1% of the economy of Southeast while tourism provides 27%, the state of Alaska says it’s in the state’s best interest to pursue an old-growth timber sale right next to Whale Pass. This is like turning down a multimillion-dollar offer on your home to sell it for a few hundred thousand bucks.

Even though the state of Alaska is now pursuing the same revenue option as a result of recently passed legislation, the state says the Whale Pass sale wouldn’t work as a carbon offset because it’s too small, that it needs to be a minimum of 5,000 acres. This argument overlooks that forestry carbon storage is not a function of acres but rather is driven by the amount of carbon storage as generated by the size, age and type of tree. For example, The Nature Conservancy of Alaska estimates that the Whale Pass parcel stores twice as much carbon per acre as the Haines State Forest.

Furthermore, the DNR commissioner explained in a letter to the Whale Pass City Council that “while carbon offset projects will open exciting new sources of revenue for the State of Alaska once the program is up and running, projects on state land are expected to operate in parallel with timber harvests — not take the place of them.” This statement ignores the fact that carbon offsets are only worth money if you are making a real tradeoff to conserve the carbon instead of logging it. In essence, the state intends to harvest carbon-storing champions near Whale Pass while seeking carbon credits for lower-carbon trees elsewhere that were unlikely to be logged. If they do this, it will signal climate hypocrisy to the carbon offset market and sink the governor’s carbon revenue scheme before it gets off the ground. Is this really what the Dunleavy administration wants?

Furthermore, why not decide that the state’s best interest lies in furthering the growth of tourism that has far more economic impact (27 times) than logging old-growth timber? In a letter to the DNR commissioner, Whale Pass Council member James Greeley noted, “As the state brings in revenue from the carbon offset credit project on these lands, residents can continue to grow our local tourism economy that would otherwise be adversely impacted by logging immediately behind the town. The present and future of our town’s economy is sharing the wealth of this land with visitors.” Apparently, tourism is not on DNR’s radar, as the commissioner failed to address this economic sector in his response to Greeley. Also missing is the failure of DNR Commissioner John Boyle to address the community’s concern about the safety of homes that would be exposed to landslides if logging occurs in the immediate areas above town.

Apparently, the only thing that matters to the Dunleavy administration is making a political statement, as the commissioner’s letter stated, “The harvest is especially appropriate given the decision by the federal government to halt logging in the Tongass National Forest.” This is a misguided reference to the Biden administration reinstating the “Roadless Rule.” It is misguided because logging of second-growth timber is not only allowed but is being encouraged by the U.S. Forest Service. It is also misguided because a majority of Southeast Alaskans support the ban on building new logging roads to old-growth timber stands.

Somehow, making a political point against the Biden administration is more important than maintaining any semblance of credibility for actualizing revenue from the newly created carbon offset program, supporting tourism, the economic sector that is thriving, allowing the community most impacted by the decision to generate immediate revenue and lead the way on carbon credits, and addressing landslide concerns.

The irony is that it’s not out-of-state environmentalists making these points but a Southeast timber town. Times have changed, and the tables have turned toward communities seeking a more sustainable future — and as such, it’s a shame that the Dunleavy administration can’t recognize this and instead chooses to remain mired in scoring political points.


Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has more than 22 years of experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas. She was also appointed to the federal Tongass Advisory Council.

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Kate Troll

Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has over 22 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She's been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.