Bagging a rain forest

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By The Staff

New Mexicans and Alaskans share a love for the natural beauty of their states and a commitment to care for the land.

Most of us want to develop land properly and know the value of conserving.

Since the first Earth Day 40 years ago, we realized that treasured public lands need good management if they are to survive for future generations.

We’ve learned that communities and individuals have a responsibility to each other to share and take care of the land.

In Southeast Alaska, we live on islands in the middle of a lush, green rainforest — the magnificent Tongass National Forest. Many in small villages heat our homes, fill our freezers and build our cabins from the most northern rainforest in the world.

But now there is a threat to the balance of resource use hammered out over decades between loggers and fishermen, hunters and tourist industries.  

Senate Bill S.881 sits in the committee, which Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairs and you will dislike it as much as many of us do.

S.881 seeks to turn over 80,000 acres of prime roaded National Forest land to a private corporation for clearcut timber harvest, turning verdant forested hills into a barren moonscape.

Several communities are fighting to protect our public lands from S.881, which our senators introduced for the benefit of one private corporation with a horrible environmental track record.

This bill sets the terrible precedent of privatizing 133 square miles of public land, some of the most used accessible public land on these islands.

The areas the Sealaska Corporation wants to clearcut contain some of the most critical remaining wildlife habitat, watersheds, important salmon streams and unique caved limestone landscapes in Southeast Alaska.  

In recent meetings that our senator held in Alaska, 75 percent of the people who attended were opposed to this bill.

Opposition is nonpartisan. Democrats and Republicans alike have voiced grave misgivings.

Eight villages on Prince of Wales Island oppose it, as do other communities in SE Alaska as well.

The S.881 bill will sacrifice the best of the remaining old — growth forest and with it, the communities that depend on the forest for their livelihood.

Senator Bingaman’s Energy and Natural Resources committee has held hearings, but not yet amended this bill, which could be bundled into one omnibus bill including other lands bills from throughout the country, some from New Mexico.  

It is bad public policy to bundle these bills. Bad legislation such as S.881 should not be piggy-backed with good legislation, which I am sure the New Mexican bills are.

Many of us up in Alaska hope you down there will ask Senator Bingaman to keep S.881 out of any lands omnibus bill.

Bingaman needs to know that bill S.881 is not acceptable and that it needs to die in committee.

Bingaman needs to know that the people of New Mexico do not want their lands legislation treated as dirty laundry, thrown into the same bag with this bill S.881.

Alaskans, like New Mexicans, love their land. The only way to ensure that future generations can enjoy our beautiful public lands, whether they are in New Mexico, Alaska, or anywhere else, is to each do our part to stand up for them. Let’s make sure that in another 40 years, there will still be an Earth Day for our future generations to celebrate.

Sandy Powers lives in Ketchikan, Alaska.