The Green Scene

Jess Vogt

A response to Phil Sammon’s letter to the editor in last week’s issue:
I got much of my information about the Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP, which I unfortunately in my notes got scrambled with the Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act — my apologies — I will triple and quadruple check my words next time) from what I believed to be reputable news sources (E Magazine, Anchorage Daily News, LA Times, USAToday and Associated Press) and read part of both the TLMP decision and the ARCA legislation. I apologize for any misconceptions or incomplete facts my column may have contained.
However, I think the other issue here is not the Tongass legislation, but the media’s ability (or tendency?) to distort stories. One media outlet can gather or receive incorrect information, but the story still becomes immutable fact, which circulates through the press. I would like to be able to believe that information obtained from a source such as the Associated Press would be accurate. The real question then becomes, if it isn’t true, where did the media get the number 3.4 million acres from then?
Where Mr. Sammon gets his acreage open to logging over the next ten years — 663,000 — I am unsure. The numbers stated in the TLMP are 3,448,972 acres of land part of the “Development Land Use Designation (LUD) Group” — the largest block of which is specifically designated for timber production. That’s 2,381,486 acres. Mr. Sammon’s claim that the 3.4 million acres are not newly open but rather were never closed illustrates an odd point about the nation’s so-called “protected forests” and “roadless areas”: That they may not be as protected as we all think. Other points of note from the ROD: Any timber removal associated with mining or other factors does not count towards allotted timber removal. And, “Rehabilitation, including reforestation, will be a function of mineral development and not a timber management objective” (TLMP, p. 60).
While it is important not to be against deforestation just for the sake of deforestation, it is also good to recognize the benefit of a forest for the services it provides, such as water and climate protection, soil formation and nutrient cycling, recreation and aesthetic services, among many others — services mentioned in the Tongass Land Management Plan. Mr. Sammon’s statement that the Tongass forest is broken up by “mountain ranges, rocks, ice, and a substantial amount of sea and freshwater” seems irrelevant because forest broken by these natural things is much different from forest broken up by tracts of clear cut forest. The organisms that rely on the forest can often cross the rocks, mountains or ice, where they cannot safely cross large patches of clear cut land or roads, and sea and freshwater support entire ecosystems of living things.
I will make one final point and then leave all judgment to the reader: the Tongass National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan of 2008 (TLMP for short) is 468 pages long. The Record of Decision (ROD) is 83 pages long. I do not claim to have gotten through the entire TLMP or ROD word-by-word, but I got through a good portion of it. If administrative decisions and other so-called public records are this length, it makes them completely inaccessible to the casual citizen, thus, forcing most to rely on the media for their interpretation of such events like this. If multiple people can read through the same document and get several different perspectives out of it, then, who are we to trust for the truthful source of our news?