AUGUST 10, 2016
We are writing to you from the largest temperate rainforest in the world: the lands of lush green full of scampering bears under the watchful gaze of ravens, rivers teeming with salmon and skies full of soaring eagles. This land is the unceded territory of the Haida, the Tlingit, the Tsimshian, the people who have canoed these waters and foraged these forests for countless generations. A third of the world’s temperate rainforest is found here, a majestic wilderness landscape spanning 17 million acres and wrapping around 11,000 miles of coastline. Many diversified niches exist here from high icy peaks to lowland river deltas where monumental spruces, cedars and hemlocks support entire communities. Half of these large trees are already gone, targeted during 60 years of clearcut logging. In winter, the endemic Alexander Archipelago wolves and their prey find refuge here. With only 60 wolves left in the region, they too are quickly vanishing, which will precipitate an ecological unraveling, as most regions of the Earth can already attest. We have come here to bear witness, to stand in solidarity with the wounded places and people, and to work to protect these living libraries of biodiversity.
It seems unreal that only a month ago a group of women who barely knew each other came together to begin to answer the call of these forests. This delegation of concerned women joined in partnership with WECAN International (Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network) for this journey to the Tongass. The stated goals were to begin making long-term trusting relationships, to develop a forest defense strategy in conjunction with Indigenous residents, and to collect footage for a series of short films. During our time here, we have listened deeply to the stories of local people, walked through vast logging operations, and experienced the unspeakable wisdom of ancient forests. We saw enormous logs being taken away by helicopter and truck, we met with the CEO of a large timber corporation, peered down on clearcuts through the lens of a video drone, recharged in cold waterfalls, sung offerings to the forest, crossed channels where whales were breaching, joined in a long house blessing and totem carving, cried in commiseration with the women of this land, and accepted gifts of salmon. Our goals have been shared by the many who endure industrial logging year-in and year-out; they welcomed and encouraged us, fed us, and led us to sacred and thriving places. Our time here has taken us to the edge of comfort as we talk about the intersections of power, privilege, indigenous rights and social and environmental injustice. We can no longer address one issue and exclude another, and in all of this we have been humbled by the complexity of the systems of exploitation at work here.
Despite the many unspoiled areas, the hunger of industry has found a way to access these remote forests. Alaska is the last state in the US where the government still enables the destruction of large tracts of oldgrowth. In addition to depriving the Haida, the Tlingit, the Tsimshian of their ancient landbase, clearcutting the Tongass destroys this incredibly important carbon sink. As the Tongass accounts for 10 to 12 percent of the carbon stored in our national forests, the cutting of these trees only further aggravates and accelerates climate change.
In contrast to the heyday of timber and pulp mills, which have been in decline for decades, logging is no longer profitable here.According to the Audubon Society, taxpayers have subsidized the US$1 Billion of net losses from the Tongass timber debacle since 1982. The familiar refrain is “We need the jobs,” but in reality only about a hundred jobs are sustained, a tiny fraction of the jobs generated by tourism and other sectors that rely on healthy forests. The timber industry is collapsing in slow motion, propped up by distant politics, and the sooner we hasten its demise, the more life will be spared.
The exquisitely beautiful, and sometimes sobering footage and images we gathered in the Tongass will become a short film that will evoke the power and tension of this pivotal moment in the Tongass. Accompanying this will be a second short film that will specifically target audiences in the policy arena, calling for an immediate cessation of oldgrowth logging. We see this as a real, imminent possibility. We are impelled to tip the balance from mindless and irreversible destruction to permanent conservation of the Tongass, and we will raise the voices and stories of the people and beings of this place until that is achieved.
There will be many opportunities in the coming weeks and months for all of us to take tangible action together.
What we are seeding here will continue to grow in many directions, including standing in solidarity with Indigenous leaders of the region, defending intact ecosystems and their irreplaceable biological webs, and regenerating ailing landscapes for future generations. Soon we will formally announce the launch of a project to regrow the lost redwood forests, and subsequently the other declining forest types throughout Turtle Island. You are needed and encouraged to join in this soul-quenching work. Come November, you could help us on a seed squad, collecting fresh cones from ancient groves to grow at our site in Northern California. More to come on that!
We are endlessly grateful for the support that has poured in, and are working hard to create the structures and alliances needed to be as effective as possible. We appreciate your kind words, your patience, and your willingness to put your energy, money, and bodies where they are needed.
For the wild,
The Tongass Delegation