Past the whitecaps of Icy Strait, concealed behind a mountain
ridge, Floyd Peterson drives his all-terrain vehicle along a remote
logging road in America's largest national forest.
He suddenly stops and shakes his head. Beside the road is a swath
of ancient spruce and hemlock recently felled by a logging company
and then left to rot. "Look at this waste," says Mr. Peterson, a
commercial fisherman from nearby Hoonah and the son of a Tlingit
Indian. "It makes you sick ... to know the Forest Service is
promoting more logging while it allows this to happen."
The 400,000 board feet of logs - enough wood to build 25 homes -
was abandoned by Whitestone Southeast Logging Inc. because it wasn't
considered commercially profitable to haul out. The economics didn't
work, even though the Forest Service spent $2 million preparing the
timber sale, offering centuries-old trees to Whitestone for only $4
each and paying the Alaska company to bulldoze a logging road to
give access to the forest.
The tale of the "Humpback-Gallagher" timber sale and its
aftermath along a rutted road here is adding a new dimension to one
of the oldest - and most volatile - forest debates in the United
For years, environmentalists have fought logging in the Tongass
National Forest largely for ecological reasons. At 17 million acres,
it is not only the largest but one of the most diverse rain forests
in the country. Yet now activists are increasingly fighting logging
in the coniferous expanse on the grounds that it isn't economical -
an argument that is already appealing to some free-market
Republicans - setting up a new collision with the Bush
administration over forest policies.
Environmentalists argue that it isn't worth it for taxpayers to
subsidize the timber prices and pay for building logging roads when
the companies can't afford to sell the wood anyway. "The bottom line
is the bottom line," says Tim Bristol, a strategist with the Alaska
Coalition, an environmental group. "Building new roads and logging
untouched portions of the Tongass doesn't add up or make sense."
This new twist to the decades-old Tongass debate was evident on
Capitol Hill this week. Rep. Steve Chabot (R) of Ohio attached an
amendment to an Interior Department appropriations bill that would
forbid the Forest Service from spending tax dollars subsidizing the
construction of logging roads in the Tongass.
Mr. Chabot's amendment set off a contentious floor debate. Rep.
Don Young (R) of Alaska, a longtime logging supporter, called it
"ill thought out, ill conceived, and wrong, totally." Yet with 47
Republicans joining Chabot and breaking ranks with the powerful Mr.
Young, the measure passed 220 to 205, threatening the Bush
administration's plans to expand subsidized logging.
Anatomy of a forest
Often referred to as the "forest of islands," the Tongass
stretches for 500 miles along the Pacific coast, encompassing
everything from volcanic uplands to glacial fiords. …