Environmentalists took down Alaska logging, don't let them destroy Alaska oil - Must Read Alaska
Connect with:
Sunday, September 19, 2021
HomeColumnsEnvironmentalists took down Alaska logging, don’t let them destroy Alaska oil

Environmentalists took down Alaska logging, don’t let them destroy Alaska oil

gif ad for must read alaska donations



As part of Gov. Hickel’s administration over 26 years ago I was asked to accompany him on a trip to Ketchikan during which he had indicated he would decide whether to run for re-election.  

He spoke at the Chamber of Commerce, and I spoke somewhere else, undoubtedly about some forestry matter. He decided to not run.  So the 3-way 1994 gubernatorial election had Democrat Tony Knowles, Republican Jim Campbell, and long-time Republican and sometime independent Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill. Knowles won, beating Campbell by only 583 votes.

Still working at Alaska DNR I was told to attend a meeting at Juneau Fish and Game headquarters, my first meeting in the Knowles administration.  My supervisor and I represented DNR, and perhaps 12 people from Fish and Game, as well as people from Law and other departments attended.  

I had not been told of the meeting topic but a handout did that; it was a state strategy to close the Ketchikan pulp mill. The new commissioner opened the meeting, then left. He came in again about 10 minutes later and took away the handout. The meeting soon closed. 

The discussion had included that demand placed upon the Tongass National Forest allowable timber cut by the pulp mill was seen by Fish and Game and environmentalists as the source of all and multiple environmental problems in southeastern. Mill closure was the offered solution.

During that era, the Clinton White House had identified spotted owl population decline as a way to reduce federal land timber harvests in the Pacific Northwest, meeting demands of environmentalists, college students, outdoor clothing retailers, and fly fishing interests.   

President Bill Clinton’s “Gang of Four” foresters, which included the United States Forest Service Chief, looked just as hard at the Tongass even though Alaska had no spotted owls. In short order, the long-term timber sale contract between Ketchikan Pulp and the Forest Service was terminated, and the pulp mill and associated sawmills closed. Tongass timber harvests fell by about 95 percent after the closure of both pulp mills and associated sawmills.  

The election of Governor Tony Knowles, that meeting at Fish and Game headquarters in Juneau, and the Clinton administration came at the worst possible time for the Alaska forest products industry, which employed 4,000 people. The industry never recovered, and even Rhode Island towers over Alaska today in forest products output and jobs, although the Tongass National Forest is much larger than Rhode Island.  (Alaska has more commercially viable timberland than any other state.)  

If the White House changes hands in the upcoming election, meetings aimed at dismantling the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System having similarities to that Knowles Administration meeting will soon follow.  

Powerful forces see the pipeline as the source of pressure on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, NWR, and even non-petroleum Arctic resources. National and international banks, Green New Deal activists, alternative energy industrialists, petroleum firms not operating in Alaska, and political factions often in the news will quickly join forces to dismantle the pipeline, knowing that once that is accomplished the wherewithal to ever again develop North Slope petroleum will become unattainable. Possibly Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court would also have roles in either allowing or preventing the demise of our oil industry.  

The belief that world oil demand has peaked, and current political thinking about climate change allow many to see Alaska oil as best left in the ground.  For Alaskans who benefit from North Slope petroleum, and that is all of us, the timing of Ballot Measure 1 could not be worse or more dangerous.

Approval of Ballot Measure 1 this November would shock many board rooms around the world. North Slope operators would suffer immediate and substantial economic difficulties brought by prohibitively higher tax rates, and many would see that election result as a strong indicator that even most Alaskans desire a speedy end to our petroleum era.  

Washington, D.C., NYC, London, Geneva and other political and financial centers would, of course, welcome the news that Alaskans are at odds with their own North Slope workers and operators.   

Alternatively, a defeat of Ballot Measure 1 on Nov. 3 will send a strong message that Alaskans are willing to fight to keep the Alaska petroleum industry alive, and that we are alert to the dangers posed by those big money interests.  

I wish we had fought harder to support and retain a forest products industry in Alaska. I wish I had fought harder, and the reason I did not seems impetuous today. Environmentalists better understood the politics.  Alaska had a much stronger comparative advantage in fine-grain lumber, high-grade pulp and forest chemicals than in oil and gas; but administrations in Washington and Juneau believed that trees should die of natural causes.   

It’s now clear to me that lost economic output is never regained or replaced in Alaska; government jobs and jobs selling tee-shirts made in Bangladesh are no substitute for natural resource and manufacturing jobs.  

No one will come to rescue the Alaska economy if Alaskans are not willing to fight to keep it. Please vote NO on Ballot Measure 1.

Tom Boutin spent more than 17 years in state government, but also had a career spanning 30 years in the private sector, much of it in timber. He retired as president of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

Donations Welcome


Latest comments

  • Thank you Tom, this is very insightful. I totally understand having served as the AK Dir of Water/Chief Hydrologic Survey how this grouping of idiots can redirect our state.

    I think you and many will find the next round of changes after Nov 3rd win by Trump will help us get Alaska back and more.

  • Thank you for an article so very well written. Let’s hope enough people take it to heart. Perhaps we do need to look at some of our taxing structures in a transparent cooperative way but we can’t keep changing the rules of the game at our every whim and expect others to want to play ball with us. Let’s hope we defeat this by a clear majority and look at new ways of working with the petroleum industry that are fair and equitable.

  • I’d probably be open to limited logging in the Tongass as long as the timber stayed in the state and got processed in value added ways, such as turning it into furniture. Finland has had success with this process, where nothing goes out of the country without some value added enhancements.

    As it is, the forest is probably going to be razed by a small labor force that will load the raw logs onto ships that will take them to Asia, where they will then have the value added. Now, that’s a bad bargain, like giving our oil away. If you want to turn Alaska into a third world kind of place, this is a good way to do it.

  • Voting and voting right on November 03, 2020 becomes more important each day….

  • The oil barons decided to politic their way into maximizing their profits … lobbying against ACES.
    Our politicians peed away most of the oil money … and are now lusting for the PF.
    The old money families are continually buying up cheap property, then announcing some project that will cross it. Then johnny come lately “investors” buy it off them for 10 times the roll of the dice. Not much later the legislature announces tabling the project, or flat refusing to proceed with it. Moving the capitol comes to mind.
    Tourism turned Alaska into a dog and pony show. The Pebble mine issue has all but ended serious investment in Alaska. Commercial fishing interests in Seattle have been responsible for fish hatcheries releasing so many pinks that the wild stocks can’t find enough feed.
    Too many “Alaskans” are S. 48 rejects layering their liberal, progressive, socialist agenda on Alaska.
    Alaska needs a reset, and maybe only a major financial disruption will do it.
    Alaska needs to use it’s energy and mineral wealth to build an industrial base, to build a sustainable economy.
    Alaskans, real Alaskans need to encourage persons whose loyalties are with Alaska, and not some political, commercial, social agenda, to come into government.
    Alaska needs a government that manages its resources, and not just occupy it like some foreign conqueror.

  • The green community did chip their teeth for years about the massive logging on federal land that required huge federal subsidies but in the end, it was market factors and federal law requirements (mostly in the Clean Water Act signed by Richard Nixon in the early 1970’s), that were the dominant cause of the demise of the pulp mills and associated logging in Alaska.

  • you would think the author would understand the Tongass Timber Reform Act. George Bush signed the law and it was supported by 99 senators. Everyone agreed it was time to end the hand out to an industry that never paid its way. The forest service created the industry and propped it up. How this compares to the pipeline I have no idea. oh the bogey man environmentalists. Thank goodness Tom Boutin is gone from AIDEA.

  • The Alaska petroleum industry is alive and well, because ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips have tens of billions of dollars stashed away in offshore bank accounts.

%d bloggers like this: