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Because We Live Here The human cost of feel good environmentalism

by Lance Waldren Pioneer Press  May 16, 2007 

There are many people out there who have the very best intentions when it comes to causes they think they should support and fight for. The ideals sent out by most environmental groups sound wonderful and noble. They pull at many heart strings. For example, who wouldn't want to save the pristine wilderness in Southeast Alaska. Lets stop all the logging!

Most people who buy into programs such as this, have first of all, never been to Alaska. If they have, it has been while sitting on the deck of a cruise ship, drinking a glass of wine, while traveling the inside passage.

These people are told that logging companies are clear-cutting the forests. That the beautiful views from their cruise ships will soon be destroyed by the money hungry timber industry. They have to do something, Now, to save Alaska.

Well, I would like to tell you a story.

I lived in Ketchikan, Alaska for 11 years. I worked for the Ketchikan Police Department and when I left, I was a Sergeant and a supervisor for the areas Death Investigation Team. I saw first hand the destruction of communities, families and lives from a single bill signed by the Clinton Administration.

Here is a little background.

Ketchikan is on an island in the middle of the Tongass National Forest. The island has a population of approximately 16,000 people and the economy is fueled by logging and fishing. The surrounding areas had small logging communities which supplied logs to the one pulp mill in the state. The mill employed about 500 people and was a major economic cornerstone for the community.

The Tongass National Forest is the largest in America and covers most of Southeast Alaska, with a total acreage of nearly 17 million acres. Of the 17 million acres, over six million acres are all ready designated as Wilderness and National Monuments. Of the remaining 11 million acres, only ten percent was eligible to be logged. That left approximately 1.1 million acres of the 17 million that could be used. That 1.1 million could have sustained the logging industry in Southeast Alaska indefinitely. I think that is being pretty well protected already.

The other thing you must remember is Southeast Alaska is made up of islands and the only roads were ones built to get the timber out to the shore where it would be barged to town. Once the logging was completed the roads where abandoned because there no way to get a vehicle to the islands. After a few years the roads where over grown and never to be seen again.

When the Clinton Administration signed the bill saying you could no longer build roads for logging it was devastating. The mill had a contract with the Forest Service for so many board feet of timber a year and they still had 25 years left on the contract. The Clintons cancelled the contract and closed the only mill left in Southeast Alaska. They paid the city a lump sum and said good luck. They had effectively shut down the logging industry.

As a law enforcement officer, it took a while to see the effects this had on our area, but it soon became obvious. This had a been a hard working, family oriented community. Now with a whole industry shut down, the housing market collapsed, unemployment sky rocketed and the problems were just beginning.

Here was a strong group of family men who had worked hard their whole lives. Now there was no work and they could not support their families. It started with alcoholism. I watched and saw men I had known for many years simply shrivel into shells of the men I once knew.

Too proud to go on welfare or to leave the homes where they had grown up. With the collapse of the housing market most owed more on their homes than they were worth.

Then came the domestic violence and the destruction of hundreds of families. The arrests started and then the divorce rate went through the roof. The frustration level felt by these men and their families was incredible.

In the second year, after the loss of logging, most of the families had used up their savings and things were beginning to become desperate. That was when my job became very busy.

I began responding to suicide after suicide. I would be sent in to clean up the mess left behind by men who had once been proud, hard working members of our community.

I personally watched the destruction of the outlying communities. I personally watched the destruction of families and I personally watched the destruction of countless lives.

When you hear stories that pull at your heart strings such as saving the pristine Alaskan wilderness, or helping some endangered fish. Stop and think about the true effects that a simple decision can have on the lives of so many people. The destruction and suffering I witnessed could never be justified because someone back east did not want to see a clear cut on their Alaskan cruise.
 

Article made available by Barb Hall, Klamath Bucket Brigade

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