Forest Rescue: Tongass 2004

Feature story - July 13, 2004
Our Forest Crimes Unit wrapped up the first phase of this year's activities in the Tongass rainforest in Alaska. We met with Haida and Tlingit natives, and talked about the impacts of large-scale commercial logging on their communities.

HYDABURG, TONGASS RAINFOREST, AK, USA - Members of the Haida tribe perform a traditional welcome dance.


Following up on our work from last year, we met with native communities in Hydaburg and Kake to discuss the effects that large-scale commercial logging has had on their livelihood. This year, Mehmet McMillan, a forest ecologist who works with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and has extensive experience working with indigenous communities, joined us to help us better understand the intricacies of local concerns.

Video from Alaska

Clear Cutting by Sealaska Video The Haida Welcome Greenpeace
2004 Tongass Tour

View a slideshow of our trip in Alaska and Canada.

As we approached Hydaburg, members of the Haida community greeted us 10 miles from shore in a traditional canoe carved from a single red cedar tree. Once they boarded the ship we were presented with the Haida flag that flew on the first Haida canoe to have entered Alaska from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia in over 100 years. Among the group were Haida youth some of who are employed in the logging industry.

As is Greenpeace tradition, once in Hydaburg, the ship had two days of "open boats" to allow anyone from the community to tour our ship and learn about our work. However, Greenpeace visited these communities to listen more than talk and a well-attended community meeting was held in the evening. We took this opportunity to thank the people of Hydaburg for their warm welcome and discuss the prospect of having their logging operations certified by the FSC, thus ensuring the long-term maintenance of their lands while providing long-term employment. We look forward to continuing this important relationship.

We then went to Kake, a Tlingit community. Mike Jackson, a local magistrate and Tlingit native, took us to an old-growth forest on Clam Island. There, Mike discussed with us the significant role this forest plays in Tlingit culture.

Background on Native Logging

In Southeast Alaska logging takes place on both public lands, and lands owned by native communities corporations as part of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In short, the state federal government agreed to give land back to Alaskan natives, but it was required that a for-profit corporate structure be put in place and all chose the for-profit structure due to mandates that they make a profit to benefit shareholders. It wasn't long before native corporations were accepting huge logging subsidies, and large-scale clearcut commercial logging on these lands became standard practice.

An alarming rate of timber was clearcut from these lands in a short period of time. One reason behind this is the fact that these lands are exempt from federal environmental regulation; and most state regulation favors logging. The State Forest Practices Act, for instance, allows logging over "un-catalogued" fish streams as well as logging in watersheds.

*Note: The FSC is a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world's forests setting high standards that ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable way.