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Monday, February 29, 2016

Notes on Tongass Land and Resources Management Plan

Recently I attended the open house discussion of the Tongass Land and Resources Management Plan Draft Environmental Impact Statement. At that public meeting it was stated that even in Alternative 5 there would still be allowed a harvest of 5 million board feet of old growth timber. The reason given was to support industry.

I am a retired economist. Previously, I was Chief of the Alaska Department of Labor's Research and Analysis section that compiles the state's employment data. I question justifying the old growth harvest for economic reasons.

In the rest of the nation there will generally be about 7 jobs in wood products manufacturing for each job in logging. Southeast Alaska, however, has very little employment in wood products, relative to the number of jobs in logging.

The most recent annual average employment available for Southeast Alaska, at the level of industry detail to show logging, is 2014. Logging employment associated with old growth timber would only be a small portion of all Southeast Alaska logging. Wood products manufacturing employment associated with old grown timber would be even a smaller portion, relative to that industry in Southeast Alaska. That is because the bulk of old growth spruce is only lightly trimmed into cants, then shipped primarily to Japan. The Japanese value the tight grain of old growth spruce for open ceiling beams, but creating cants adds little processing employment in Alaska.

  2014 Annual Average Employment
  Southeast Alaska Logging 182
  Southeast Alaska Wood Products Manufacturing 67
  Ratio Wood Products Manufacturing to Logging 0.37

  U.S. Logging 47,600
  U.S. Wood Products Manufacturing 340,400
  Ratio Wood Products Manufacturing to Logging 7.12

In Southeast Alaska less than 0.2 percent of 2014 annual average total non-farm wage and salary employment was in wood products manufacturing. Furthermore, only a small portion of that was related to processing old growth timber from the Tongass National Forest. Far more employment in Southeast Alaska is related to fishing, fish processing, and tourism. Those industries can be negatively affected by logging old growth timber. It is likely that retaining an allowable harvest level of old growth timber could actually reduce total employment in Southeast over the long term.

Of the five alternatives listed for the Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan. I prefer Alternative 5. However, the continued annual harvest of five million board feet of old growth timber does not appear justified for economic reasons, and I suggest that it should be deleted from Alternative 5.

Tourism to Southeast Alaska has been growing for decades, and fishing continues to be a major economic factor. Eliminating the old growth timber harvest should benefit both of those industries. 

Chuck

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