Young Denies Existence of Big Trees
~Photo of delusional person by John Schoen. Do NOT believe your lyin’ eyes.
This post is about Don Young. Periodically, Alaska’s one and only congressman makes it a point to embarrass the thinking residents of his fine state. Some times it’s by yelling at his fellow legislators, or insulting them. Sometimes it’s an outlandish stunt like banging the penis bone of a walrus on the table while the House is in session, or wearing a propeller beanie to demonstrate how silly wind power is. But this one is just bizarre. And for Don Young, that’s saying something. But first, let’s all get caught up with a short review of the issue, so we can fully revel in Congressman Young’s delusional idiocy. When Lisa Murkowski won a write-in bid for her current seat in the United States Senate, her campaign gushed, “We made history!” And indeed they had. No one since Strom Thurmond had done it, and it seemed that she had pulled off a miracle. This is what everyone was thinking on that November day in 2010. Everyone but me. When Murkowski was declared the winner, all I could think was, “there go the trees.” Now, before I get labeled as a tree-hugger, let me just say that there are trees and there are trees. And tree-hugger though I may be, the trees I was thinking about at that time were not your average run-of-the-mill trees. I was thinking of the ancient trees that make up only .5% of the trees in temperate rain forests, which in turn make up only 3% of forest on the planet – the jewels in the crown of North America’s last remaining rainforest. These are the kind of trees that could make even a stodgy pro-development business type feel a little huggy. And the reason that the sound of creaking timber, and breaking branches came to my mind when Lisa Murkowski won her senate race, was the same reason I heard it again when she addressed the Alaska Federation of Natives convention, saying that the unity of the Alaska Native community was what made it possible for her to “make history.” “I will never forget what you have done,” she promised. What the Alaska Native Corporations had done was to pony up and finance Murkowski’s race to the tune of almost $2 million through the Alaskans Standing Together PAC. She had no support from her own party, who was backing the winner of the primary, Joe Miller. But she did have the powerful and wealthy Native corporations who were willing to take a gamble that she would be able to beat Miller. They knew if she did, there would be a payoff for them. They are, first and foremost corporations, and profits are everything. Without the incredible financial resources that the Native corporations provided, Lisa Murkowski would not have won her race. And everyone knows it. That’s where the trees come in. Sealaska Native Corporation in southeast Alaska is in the middle of negotiating a land exchange, and they’ve got their eye on the Tongass and its trees. And if the deal goes through, we will be privatizing some of our last remaining old-growth forests, currently in public hands, for political payback.Back in 1971, the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was established to resolve all Native land claims issues in Alaska. The land selections were made, and presumed to be final at that time. A great myth-busting article by Joe Mehrkens in the Juneau Empire on April 25, 2011 sums it up like this:
The real issue is that Sealaska quickly liquidated their old-growth and now is looking for a second bite of the apple.
The “second bite of the apple” would be possible through new legislation that would open up 65,000 acres of land outside the old borders for logging and development. The Corporation would swap the land they have left (the least profitable) for the land containing the highest density of timber (the most profitable). And, of course, the lands that are in question contain an extremely disproportionate number of very, very old and large trees. These trees are not only breathtaking to see, but they are actually a valuable part of the ecosystem that supports many other forms of life in the area – from birds, to salmon, and everything in between.
~Dall Island, showing Sealaska’s clear cutting.
The legislation would allow Sealaska a twelve-fold increase in the number of these precious trees that could be taken for timber, and would mean that 17% of the very rarest stands of trees in the national forest would be open for clear-cutting. Taking the most valuable trees is called “high-grading,” and involves cherry picking areas which provide the largest density of “board feet” of timber. So, the more picnic tables you can make per square foot of forest, the more profitable it is to cut down.
Needless to say, environmental groups are up in arms over this potential disaster in North America’s temperate rainforest. Audubon even went in and did extensive research, and released a report in which they identified the areas with the most old growth trees, and ecological value. Here’s a little piece of it (emphasis is mine). Expressed as a percentage of productive old growth:
- 24–27 % of Sealaska’s proposed selection acreage is composed of very-large-tree old- growth (class 7) stands in contrast to class 7 in the Tongass as a whole at 1.6%, and
- 57–59 % of Sealaska’s proposed selection acreage is composed of large-tree (class 6/7) stands in contrast to class 6/7 in the Tongass as a whole at 11.0%.
The high-grading is particularly pronounced with regard to the very large-tree stands (class 7). This is accomplished by locating the selection areas in the most productive parts the Tongass National Forest, and within those selection areas, drawing convoluted boundaries to include the very large-tree stands and to exclude non-forested lands.
In absolute terms, the proposed land selections would allow Sealaska to remove up to 5.7 % of the large-tree stands (class 6/7), and up to 16.6 % of the last remaining very large-tree stands (class 7) from the Tongass National Forest.
So, you get the idea. And you see that the theme of the report includes the mention of large trees, very large trees, and old-growth forest. Because, (as Don Young seems not to understand) old-growth forest is made up of… wait for it… old trees. And even if this article is all you have read about the issue, YOU know more about it than Don Young. Because despite all of this, a series of words has emerged from Don Young’s pie hole that can only be described as “bizarre.” As I am a compassionate person, I won’t make you listen to the entire thing, but here is the most memorable nonsense. I’m “high-grading” Young’s untruths, as it were, to ensure maximum profit for you. (00:10) “It’s very important to understand something. Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is 17 million acres of land. We’re asking for 77 million (he means thousand) acres of land to be transferred to the Sealaska Corporation that’s already been cut. There’s no old-growth timber involved in this.” (3:14) “All I’m asking today is to give an action to this congress in 1971 the rights to the Native people to land that’s not old-growth timber… It’s not old-growth timber. It’s land that’s already been cut.” (4:02) “… and they’re trying to stay away from the old growth. That’s what they’re trying to do.
“If I was doing it myself, I’d cut the old growth timber… It’s dying anyway! But nobody wants to do it. They don’t recognize it.” Don Young on the House Floor
Yup, that’s our “science first” one and only member of congress. I can’t wait until he explains that the biggest, oldest trees of the rainforest are “dying anyway” and therefore it’s some kind of mercy killing for the good of the other trees that have their whole lives ahead of them. He can start be telling the 300 scientists who wrote this letter expressing their serious concerns over the future of the last remnants of temperate rainforest. So, remember boys and girls, the old-growth rainforest does not contain big trees, but even if it did, we should cut them all down. ~ Photo of man standing by imaginary tree in the Tongass National Forest by Jack Gustafson. If the tree were real, it should be felled immediately to put it out of its misery. But it’s not.