Why Some of Our Last Remaining Old-Growth Forests May Be Privatized for a Political Favor

Here is a contribution from an Alaskan reader:

While world leaders converge on Rio de Janeiro this week to discuss what can be done to rein in climate change, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has other plans: It will take up an omnibus bill that bundles together more than a dozen proposals that critics have denounced as a sweeping effort to roll back environmental laws and privatize public lands.

The bill that could go to a vote as early as Tuesday includes one measure that would privatize some of the last remaining old-growth trees inside Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, a rugged wilderness often called the “crown jewel of the U.S. public lands system.” The legislation would convey tens of thousands of acres of Tongass forestland to Sealaska Corp., a native corporation that helped bankroll Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s 2010 write-in reelection victory.

Sealaska, a diversified conglomerate with native Alaskan shareholders, says the land includes sites with cultural and sacred value. But the company’s critics, including some of its own shareholders, say it’s a land grab worth billions of dollars in timber sales. Logging those lands, they warn, could jeopardize ecosystems inside one of the world’s last remaining temperate rainforests and destabilize the local economy in a region that spawns the vast majority of the world’s commercial salmon catch each year.

Sealaska, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees in support of the legislation in recent years, has the backing of Alaska’s entire congressional delegation. Alaska Rep. Don Young introduced the measure being considered this week, while the Senate version of the bill, co-sponsored by Murkowski and Mark Begich, a Democrat, has been the subject of furious behind-the-scenes negotiations with lawmakers, the Obama administration, environmental groups and other special interests. While a new version of the Senate bill has yet to be made public, Murkowski has said she hopes to hold a Senate markup later this summer.

Sealaska didn’t respond to emails requesting comment but the corporation’s executive vice president, Rick Harris, told Reuters that Sealaska would relinquish rights to other ecologically valuable old-growth areas inside the Tongass, in exchange for the lands. According to Reuters, Harris said the deal fit with Sealaska’s mission to redress long-standing wrongs against native people in the area.

Note from Sharon: I am always interested in what appears to be the divergence of media nowadays into “us” media and “them” media and how that plays out.. here is one of the pieces in “About” Alternet, the organization that published this piece.


AlterNet has developed a unique model of journalism to confront the failures of corporate media, as well as the vitriol and disinformation of right wing media, especially “hate talk” media.

Not only do we keep our readers highly informed on a wide array of topics, from hundreds of experts and sources, but we also provide laser focus on the most compelling issues of the day. We offer our readers comprehensive information, a positive vision for the future, and concrete action steps towards change. AlterNet believes that media must have a higher purpose beyond the essential goal of keeping people informed. We insist on playing an active role in helping our community funnel its energy into change.

It seems like increasingly stories are in service of agendas, and not just about explaining to people why different people think differently about an issue.

Anyway, here’s a link to Sealaska. So is returning land to them technically repatriation or “privatization” or some hybrid? There seem to be some nuances left unexamined.

7 thoughts on “Why Some of Our Last Remaining Old-Growth Forests May Be Privatized for a Political Favor”

  1. “Old Growth” is abundant in our cutting units. There seems to be plenty enough to actually “thin” some of the old growth, in favor of better spacing and healthier trees. I tend to resist the desire to cut as much of them as the marking prescription allows. I was in a patch of old growth with many 30″+ dbh decadent white firs, complete with giant mistletoe cankers. Between them are younger sugar pines and p. pines, trying to poke a hole in the fir canopy. Incense cedar is the highest value tree, right now. The prescription insists that I take those 26″ dbh healthier trees. THIS is why diameter limits are ill-advised in the new collaborative transparency we want. What we are doing here is “forest sculpting” but, we have limits on what kind of art is allowed. We have to constantly measure larger trees we want to mark, to make sure they aren’t over 29.9″ dbh.

    • Larry: “Diameter screens” and age screens are stupid. Not ignorant, stupid. Having never worked directly for the USFS allows me to be judgmental in that regard without fear of reprisal. No one else does it, or even considers doing it, and there are reasons. And “reasoning” does not equal stupid management prescriptions.

      Your problem is that you are familiar with the forests and woods. The nitwits who come up with this crap are typically city kids playing computer games (“modeling”) and pretending like they’re practicing “science,” or even “forestry.” Looking at the demographic shift in the US from farms and small towns to cities during the past 100 years provides a clue to this stupidity. Buying Canadian lumber for US homes from Weyerhaeuser provides another clue.

      At some point someone needs to shine a flashlight on this crap and find out who’s responsible. Then make them stop.

      I’d trust “logger’s choice” in a well-worded contract over “modeling” prescriptions every time if I were truly interested in creating healthier, safer forests. I’m guessing a lot of other people would, too.

      • Sadly, silviculturalists have to “dumb down” the science, in order for timbermarkers to be able to follow it. Diameter limits make that part of it easy, as well as “complying with the laws (and policies, directives, court decisions, local culture, etc). Something else new in this arena is the task to create openings and preserve clumps. We can take a low-site area, with scattered crappy trees, and make the opening bigger. With the clumps, when we run into a patch of maybe 6 trees over 30” dbh, we can “create” a clump, where no trees at all are harvested. They like these to be up to 100×100′.

        Meanwhile, many timbermarkers are inexperienced, and not educated in forestry. Our current crew started with three experienced markers, and three completely green ones. We’ve already lost one of the latter, deciding to quit. The other two “noobs” are doing quite well, considering they have been doing it for only three weeks now. Since the one guy quit, our crew has really great chemistry and desire to do an excellent job. We welcome oversight, from any source.

        On the Biscuit, “loggers choice” was soundly rejected, which was kinda silly, since only dead trees were being cut for salvage.

  2. Larry: When silviculturalists use diameter screens, they are not “dumbing down” the science — they are demonstrating lack of competence and acquiescencing to political pressures. If any “science” is involved, it’s political science.

    Loggers know a lot more about tree health, species, diameters, and so on, than newbies. Or the local hippies they got (“were coerced to employ”) to mark “leave trees” on the Biscuit and on the nearby Deer Creek fire a few years later. Not totally incompetent, but close, and definitely biased. Easy enough to use a D-Tape, though, and that seemed to be the technical limit for some of these Cave Junction “foresters.”

    There have been millions of acres of precommercial thinning — including nearly 20,000 acres by my own crews — in which contract specs were basically (pre-)logger’s choice. When contract administration was good, results were also good; even excellent. I think the same holds true on private lands for commercial timber stands, tree farms, and even landscaping forested environments.

    What are your thoughts? My perspective is that if you and maybe one partner were hired to administer thinning jobs on a daily basis — and documenting your findings with GPS-referenced digital photos and videos — the results would be similar or even better than marking the trees in advance to simplistic standards, and the overhead costs would be a lot less. More profit (“jobs”), better finished product. Plus, the imagery could be put online so that even the public could monitor the results.

    Further, why doesn’t the USFS set up landscape-scale test units (including “no action alternative”) and compare results — and let the public monitor the differences? I know that several proposals have been made in this regard (including the Biscuit by the scientist who did all of the pre-fire soil plots on it), and it is never funded. One more way in which “pal review” funding is reserved for PC-scientists who have reached “consensus,” and dissenting viewpoints and the public are excluded from the process.

    • Actually, I was part of a crew the Forest hired to mark the “leave snags” on the Biscuit. I worked there for three weeks, In the LSR’s, we were directed to mark the biggest and best trees as “leave snags”. Indeed, some of our crew was green but, our crew leader and myself were there to make sure we were thorough and consistent. The Forest REALLY wanted to blame us for Babyfoot Lake but, we weren’t involved in that “boo-boo”.

      I do admit that I have worked on some crews with people who weren’t very good at marking trees. It is very common for the Forest Service to hire people with minimal timbermarking skills. I call this concept “Federal McForestry”, where there is always a revolving door on hiring temporaries right off the street.

      On the other hand, I walked through a cutting unit marked by a contract crew yesterday. The trees needed more paint, especially on the butt marks. It appears that the local RD didn’t inspect the work very well. I am on the first marking crew this RD has had in 10 years. They have tried many other options to get trees marked but, we’re going to show them that we are the solution. Our silviculturalist is really liking our work, compared to another District’s crew that has been helping us. We work very well as a crew, without any of the egos that sometimes has a very negative effect.

      • Larry: the worst part of Babyfoot Lake was all of the Douglas-fir that were allowed to invade over the years, helping to kill off the very old-growth sugar pine, Brewer’s spruce, and Scouler’s oak patches the Botanical Area was designated to protect — even before the redundant over-layer of Wilderness designation. It did rejuvenate the beargrass, though:


        Also — it was mostly a Deer Creek Fire marking crew I was referring too, although the Babyfoot trespass was the other part. One thing I heard was that the people doing the marking had mistaken the drainage with a ridgeline. The marking crew, in my opinion, should have been through about 20 years earlier, immediately following the Silver Complex at least.

  3. (What does the foregoing discussion, Deer Creek Fire, etc. have to do with this article? Have the commenters even read this article?)

    “So is returning land to them technically repatriation or “privatization” or some hybrid? There seem to be some nuances left unexamined.” (Sharon)

    Unexamined indeed. This is not “repatriate” (def. — “send (someone) back to their own country”).
    (1) The Natives already live here, and those who don’t are still compensated as nonresident shareholders (see below).
    (2) As American citizens, Natives already “own”, enjoy, and partake of the natural resources of the Tongass. The difference is, whether corporate board of directors with singular short term profit motives with minimal regulatory restrictions, or federal agencies bound to NEPA NFMA etc. will manage these landscapes.
    (3) However, as ANCSA converted Natives into corporatized entities, incorporated (for profit) Sealaska Directors seek PRIVATE control over liquidating, monetizing, and exporting public resources of the Tongass and the hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer investments already made on these lands for their personal (extraordinary) wealth and conversely, for the paltry, unsustainable, dividend distribution checks to Native shareholders. To date, this has not worked well for the majority of Natives on the Tongass and has resulted in incalculable socio-economic, environmental, and cultural impoverishment.

    This is defacto “privatization” (def. –privatize — “transfer from public to private ownership and control”) There is no “hybrid” here.

    The Alaska Native Claims Setltement Act (ANCSA) is the legislation which was a “settlement” of land claims. The settlement conveyed rights of ownership to “about 148,500,000 acres” and ” $962.5 million in compensation distributed to 200 local village and 12 Native-owned regional corporations, plus a thirteenth corporation comprising Alaska Natives who had left the state”(Wiki)

    Conversely, the current Sealaska legislation attempts to have the Sealaska Board rewrite ANCSA, inventing out of whole cloth, entirely new land designations, in return for campaign contributions which were central to Senator Murkowski’s political survival.

    Sealaska is already on record having made these land designations within the ANCSA boundaries all parties agreed to 40 years ago. These selections were forced to occur under the Alaska Lands Transfer Acceleration Act and are on file with BLM. Sealaska has requested these lands not be conveyed, however. One can only wonder why, eh?

    “It seems like increasingly stories are in service of agendas, and not just about explaining to people why different people think differently about an issue.”(Sharon)

    As someone who has journalistic family connections, I find it odd that you find this article in the service of some other agenda other than journalism. Please indicate where this article falls into the service of some other “agenda”. for its length, I found it well-rounded and inclusive of the salient aspects of the issue. This, in contrast to regional and national media with a demonstrable corporate-friendly agenda to their coverage.

    Conversely, this article has been selectively excerpted by you (and completely ignored by the commenters) in a fashion which entirely avoids the most salient issues of political corruption, and the unprecedented, large-scale privatization of our “crown jewel” of the national forest system. Consequently, you have ignored and excluded for your readers sake, the role of quid pro quo “collaborators” cutting behind the scenes deals, the legal precedent which could set in motion a statewide corporate redistribution of public lands, the eradication of applied federal conservation strategies, the inevitable resulting ESA listings etc. etc.

    You have distinguished yourself from your own agency’s official position in a most peculiar way here, leaving the reader with an implicit stamp of personal approval of large-scale privatization of irreplaceable, highly valuable, heavily invested, NFS lands.



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