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"This has got to be a nine," I said while we fought our way up a thick, slick, spiked slope in a drizzle.

"Nope," Christensen called over. "Nine is way worse."

"What's a nine, then?"

"A nine is when it's raining hard and the bugs are really bad."

Deer, moose, and bears don't find the going easy in logged-over acreage either, but they have a bonanza of herbs and berries to choose from during the warm months. From late fall through spring, though, the food in clear-cuts is mostly out of reach beneath deep snow. Within 20 to 30 years, young trees will have taken over in such numbers that their branches interlace to form what foresters call a closed canopy stand. Little light gets through to lower levels. For a creature in search of a meal, the gloomy floor of a second-growth rain forest might as well be a desert for 50 to 100 years.

In 1968, the Forest Service awarded a contract to U.S. Plywood-Champion Papers, Inc., to cut trees for pulp on Admiralty Island. Long known to Tlingit tribes as Kootznoowoo, Fortress of the Bears, the million-acre (400,000 hectares) island supports one grizzly per square mile (three square kilometers). Public pressure mounted, and eventually, in 1978, the whole of Admiralty was set aside as a national monument.

Meanwhile, the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act had given the various native corporations across the state ownership of lands they selected from federal holdings. The total in Southeast Alaska came to more than 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares). Advised by timber economists, the native regional corporations and villages picked out mainly lands with productive big-tree forests. Then they began to level them and sell the raw logs to Asian markets, almost matching the pulp mills' rate of timber consumption.

Next came ANILCA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which established 104.3 million acres (42.2 million hectares) of parks, wildernesses, and other reserves throughout the largest state. In a trade-off engineered by Alaska's congressional delegation, the same bill mandated that the mills in the Tongass be supplied with a minimum of 450 million board feet (one million cubic meters) of timber and a 40-million-dollar annual subsidy—primarily to build roads to access timber.

People on both sides of the Tongass dispute get mad at the Forest Service. Maybe it is more to be pitied—as the recipient of conflicting marching orders. The new law essentially forced the agency to promote heavy logging even as other laws held it responsible for protecting wildlife and watersheds. Citizens outside the state were increasingly alarmed by the pace of rain forest destruction and annoyed that they were funding it.

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