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Outdoors/Adventure

Sustainability of natural resources matters to outdoorsmen and women

I believe most outdoorsmen and women are conservationists. We are constantly advocating sustainability of natural resources.

Among conservationists there is a wide range of thought and plenty of disagreement on how, how much, why and what we should conserve, but the basic premise of insuring the continuing availability of our natural resources is the common thread.

A recent program concerning the logging industry in Southeast Alaska caught my attention. I have known a fair number of loggers. To a man, they were staunch industry advocates. They were also hunters, fishermen and avid users of the outdoors. My personal knowledge of the logging industry is poor at best, limited to what I've read. Given that, the industry in Southeast Alaska seems quite sustainable to me.

Whenever we utilize the natural bounty available to us, we should focus on the word sustainable. These questions should be asked: Can we do what we are proposing without damage to the resource and to the environment as a whole? Are we returning to the world as much or more than we took from it? When it comes to logging some old growth in Southeast Alaska, you could answer "yes" to both of those queries.

There has been some logging in the Prince William Sound area in the fairly recent past. I admit the first year or two of seeing a checkerboard of denuded slopes was a bit unsettling.

I was commercial fishing with an old logger during the years of those cuts, and he was able to give me a different perspective than I might have had on my own. Now, years later, walking through those previously cut areas, it appears to me that the long-term benefits outweighed the initial appearance of harm.

We need timber. Cutting sustainably is possible. The benefits to local environments could be viewed much the same as the desirability of wildfires in interior locales.

Most decisions on environmental programs come from experts we hire to make intelligent judgments. Naturally the public has a stake in the management of our world, thus we are entitled to provide input and passion.

Passion almost always enters when we speak of another type of resource management. Wolf control has ignited discussions in Alaska since before statehood, and I have little doubt there is no end in sight to the conversation.

The Department of Fish and Game has made the decision to end the predator control program in the range the Fortymile caribou herd frequents.

There is disagreement within the ADF&G and in the public as to the effectiveness of the current predator control program. Whichever side you lean toward, the answer to the question of whether the program has caused lasting damage to our environment is no.

Land and resource managers will always make mistakes in policy-making decisions. The reality is, we don't know enough about the world we live in to always make perfect deductions on how to manage our environment.

Additionally, the ever-fluctuating numbers of users of any given resource can change on fairly short notice. The desires and mindsets of those users also undergoes constant change. The best we can do as conservationists, whether we are in agreement or not with a given policy, is provide informed input. The question should always be: Will the proposed policy cause lasting harm?

Fisheries are a tougher nut to control. Local lake and stream populations of trout, whitefish, char and grayling are relatively easy to monitor and control. Our decisions and policies concerning salmon are limited to what we can do with the fish when they return from the sea and how we can protect their spawning grounds.

Because we only have oversight of this all-important resource for a short portion of their lives, management needs to weigh heavily in favor of protection. There are arguments aplenty about who should get the lion's share of the fish as they return. Despite that, all should be united by a desire to protect salmon spawning numbers and the quality of brood habitat.

Conservationists are not preservationists. Preservationists would like to not mess with the environment. They would like to let the wild do its own thing. Unfortunately, this approach to habitat and wildlife is impossible in today's world. There are too many people impacting natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable.

Whenever we drill for oil, dig for gold, shoot a caribou or trap a wolf, we have an effect on our environment. As you voice your opinion on any proposal that impacts our outside world, remember to ask yourself if the harm outweighs the benefit, and if the proposal yields a sustainable result.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives  with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

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