08/24/2007: "Belly of the Beast"
My head is full of images of old growth trees with ferns and skunk cabbages growing by their trunks, degraded roads and clear cuts along with the words of people we interviewed in the last days in Ketchikan and Prince of Wales, communities south of Sitka. "We're in the belly of the beast," said one woman, referring to the logging and road building that just never seem to end, even when neither seems to make financial or environmental sense.
I've just come back from working with the National Resource Defense Council. The goal of the NRDC shoot was to show how people's tax dollars are being used to help destroy the Tongass National Forest and to put a damper on an amendment/rider Senator Ted Stevens is pushing that will limit litigation against timber sales in National Forests.
In our travels, we heard about people speaking out to question road building, subsidies and logging and losing their jobs in the process. We talked with people who beach log and mill wood, fish and hike the mountains here. We saw monster cruise ships docked in the town of Ketchikan, where hoards of passengers clutching purchases walked in and out of jewelry and trinket shops, that will be soon be boarded up when the summer season ends. We struggled to find good local food and saw a strangely glowing green hill by the closed pulp mill, remnant of toxic times.
Ugly images. Wild beautiful images. My job was to help capture both. Ketchikan and Sitka and Prince of Wales are both surrounded by the Tongass, a National Forest. At 17 million acres, the Tongass is the largest national forest in the U.S. and the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world. The Tongass, which is includes about 85% of Southeast Alaska, is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, but it is owned by all U.S. citizens.
Those crowds of folks on cruise ships shopping for souvenirs and all the people who book fishing charters and stay in lodges get to see the beauty of the Tongass everyday they travel or catch a salmon or halibut in S.E. Alaska. I wonder what they think when they see a clear cut or if they tried to read up on the issues of managing the forests. I assume that as they collect their boxes of fish or bags of gifts they’ve valued being in a place that isn't completely paved over or clear cut.