Your Tax Dollars at Work: Economics, Tongass and Special Interests

Tongass National Forest encompasses all of Southeast Alaska, up to Yakutat Bay. It is the northern end of the largest temperate rainforest in the world. And from the air, it looks like it has mange, the consequence of decades of unsustainable clear-cutting of its old growth forest. There’s been a renewed effort to resume clear-cutting of old growth forests. More mange. But, the lumber industry argues, it’s an important source of jobs.

Not really.

The Economics of the Tongass. Source: Alaska Audubon

The Economics of the Tongass. Source: Alaska Audubon

The Forest Service spends $6 million on tourism and recreation, creating about 10,000 jobs. The Forest Service spends about $8 million a year on fisheries, generating about 7,000 jobs. The Forest Service spends a whopping $21 million a year on logging and generates . . . 109 jobs. WC has historical reasons for disliking the Y.S. Forest Service. But even setting those prejudices aside, logging in the Tongass is an impressive waste of your tax dollars. The cumulative losses on Tongass timbers sales since 1982 are now over $1 billion.

Not to mention that logging hurts the much more economically significant tourism, recreation and fishing industries. No one wants to travel to Alaska to see stuff like this:

The Forest Service's idea of multiple use: clear cutting the temperate rain forest

The Forest Service’s idea of multiple use: clear cutting the temperate rain forest

Ordinarily, WC would tell you to write to your Congressional representative and tell them you want large scale timber harvesting in the Tongass to stop. If the aesthetics don’t move you, if the loss of salmon and recreation don’t move you, then the appalling waste of your tax dollars should. You’d think even conservatives could agree on that.

You’d be wrong. Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, and Congressman Young are unrelenting supporters of large scale, old growth clear cutting in the Tongass. Never mind that it was unsustainable, or did immense damage to the ecosystem that will take thousands of years to recover. Never mind it threatens endangered species like the Northern Spotted Owl and the Alexander Archipelago Wolf. Never mind that the trees would be more valuable taking CO2 out of the air.

Even for the Forest Service, even for Senator Murkowski, it’s stupid. But stupid apparently doesn’t matter.