Zach LaPerriere is a small-scale logger and woodworker. (Courtesy Photo/Sitka Conservation Society)

Note: Opinions expressed in commentary on KCAW are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by the station’s board, staff, or volunteers.

“Never touch the principle.” This is often said about finances, but the same logic applies to our own backyard here in Southeast Alaska. We still have the opportunity to create a sustainable economy, one that includes a logging industry. This future is only possible if we maintain our principle—the intact, productive habitat of the Tongass National Forest. And currently, our principle is under attack.

My name is Zach LaPerriere. I am a woodworker and small scale logger in Sitka. Sitka has been home since 2000, but I grew up in Ketchikan during the heyday of large-scale clearcut logging. Over two decades have passed since the pulp mills have closed down and those jobs are gone, but the state is still playing these same corporate welfare games with the timber industry. Last month, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it chose a full exemption as the preferred alternative for the Alaska Roadless Rule, despite the massive showing of public support for keeping the Rule on the Tongass.

A full exemption from the Roadless Rule isn’t just a mistake because of how it would harm our existing visitor and commercial fishing industries; it’s also, frankly, bad economics. A week before the draft environmental impact statement dropped, Taxpayers for Common Sense released a study showing that Tongass timber sales have cost taxpayers nearly 600 million dollars over the last 20 years. They also found that repealing the Roadless Rule from the Tongass would only increase this trend of wasting taxpayers dollars. Why are our political leaders so insistent on subsidizing this outdated economic model?

We have been coming together to say: we hunt here. We fish here. We recreate in these woods. Many of us, myself included, make our living from them. Many of these forest-supported livelihoods are sustainable; fishing, hunting and guiding, wildlife tours, or in my case: one-of -a kind hand-turned bowls from dead & down trees. I am not against a homegrown logging industry in Southeast Alaska – in fact, I am a part of it. However, that logging industry needs to be aligned to the timescale of this slow-growing forest. 

I want to see local guitar makers using Sitka Spruce; local carpenters crafting furniture from beautiful red cedar; I would love for builders to be able to walk into Spenards and buy local wood for their projects. We need to do value-added processing in-region, instead of shipping our trees to Asia for the commodity market or Washington for suburban fence pickets. 

We need to honor these trees and let the woodwork tell their stories. Trying to revive an era of industrial-scale clearcutting doesn’t do justice to our forests, it doesn’t do justice to future generations, and it doesn’t do justice to the local, small-scale timber operators and woodworkers who are dedicated to sustaining our livelihoods and our natural environment for years to come. These sustainable economies and futures won’t be handed to us—we have to create them. That is why I am going to the Forest Service’s Alaska Roadless Rule public meeting on Tuesday, November 12th at 5pm in Centennial Hall—to speak for a truly sustainable future for our forests.