The Dollars and Sense of Clearcutting the Tongass
Wood products, wood fiber, and forest management are all necessary to support society. There are regions in the United States in which climates nurture quickly-regenerating forests. In these places, management practices like clearcutting or thinning certain tree species are acceptable. But applying these principles to a slow-growing, ancient forest like the Tongass is reckless. In fact, it makes zero economic sense.
More than one million tourists journey to the Tongass each year to experience its remarkable natural beauty and abundant wildlife. Tourism represents 8% of regional employment and as a combined industry, generates $1 billion in Southeast Alaska.
The Tongass isn’t called America’s Salmon Forest for nothing. Nearly 20,000 miles of undammed creeks, rivers and lakes support commercial, subsistence and sport fishing. This fishery generates $1 billion annually and accounts for 11% of Southeast Alaska’s employment.
The timber industry—nearly entirely reliant on the harvest of old-growth trees—generates a mere $3 million annually. Timber represents less than 4% of the region’s employment. According to the Southeast Conference Southeast Alaska by the Numbers report:
It is estimated that the U.S. Forest Service loses more than $20 million annually subsidizing industrial-scale old-growth timber sales. Since 1980, this single National Forest may have lost up to $1 billion in subsidized sales. This deficit is undisputed.
Check out these in-depth reports on the economy of Southeast Alaska:
Southeast Alaska Conference: http://www.seconference.org/sites/default/files/Southeast Alaska by the numbers 2014 FINAL_0.pdf
Headwaters Economics: http://headwaterseconomics.org/economic-development/local-studies/tongass