What happened was that rayon and cellophane, hot items in the 1950s, turned out to be a wave of the past. Petrochemical fabrics and plastics have taken over. The Sitka mill has lost nearly $100 million over the last three years, or so its owners claim. That could be creative accounting, but the cellulose-based synthetics industry may indeed be dying. Unless, of course, the Chinese go for paper diapers in a big way.
Paper diapers are made out of cellulose, and Alaska's big market is the nations of the Pacific rim. Anyway, the two Alaskan pulp mills yelled poor mouth awhile ago, and the Forest Service dropped their stumpage price to about $2 per 1,000 board feet.
How many board feet in one of those big 400-year-old trees?
About a thousand, maybe two. On the average, the U.S. Treasury gets about $2 for an old-growth Tongass spruce—-about the same as the price of a DoveBar.
So clear-cutting the Lisianski stand will generate how much revenue for the federal government?
Assuming that the valley is nearly all spruce, about $65,000.
Well, that's something.
Not really. Before the Forest Service auctions a tract of national forest to be logged, it does a lot of surveying and mapping. It also builds such necessities as loading docks, roads and barracks. It may also throw in some nonnecessities. For example, in 1986, when the service completed a $6.4 million logging facility at Thorne Bay, on Alaska's Prince of Wales Island, it included a ball field covered with sod brought up by barge from Seattle. None of this is charged to the timber companies—in accordance with ANILCA's provisions—and if the loggers do any road building, they are reimbursed. In fact, the Forest Service builds more miles of road than any highway department in the U.S.
Sometimes, alas, the timber leases that the service offers at auction don't sell, though the government has spent all that money on construction. The taxpayers thus own a lot of roads in Southeast Alaska that lead to nowhere. And there's a nifty new barracks in Corner Bay on Chichagof Island. It has a weight room, cable TV....