Musicians for Forests: How the Music Industry can help the Tongass National Forest

Mike Lawson • News • May 20, 2016

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Musicians for Forests holds the vision of pulling together acoustic guitar manufacturers, musicians, soundboard suppliers, retailers, NGOs, and outdoor manufacturers to end the clearcutting of old-growth Sitka spruce in the Tongass.

Spanning 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest is the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest and the largest National Forest within the United States. More than 1.5 million tourists journey to the Tongass each year to experience its remarkable natural beauty and abundant wildlife. Tourism contributes $1 billion to the local economy.

The Tongass isn’t called “America’s Salmon Forest” for nothing. Nearly 20,000 miles of un-dammed creeks, rivers and lakes support commercial, subsistence and sport fishing. This fishery generates $1 billion annually and accounts for 11% of Southeast Alaska’s employment.

Old-growth Sitka spruce has long been a choice tonewood for acoustic guitar production. Many American acoustic guitar manufacturers obtain this wood from the Tongass. There’s just one problem: the Tongass is the only National Forest in the United States in which clearcutting old-growth trees is still permitted.

An old-growth Sitka spruce requires 500 years to grow 300 feet tall. A clearcut section of old-growth forest requires at least 1,000 years to fully re-establish. This means once stands of old-growth Sitka spruce are clearcut, they are gone, for our lifetimes, for future generations’ lifetimes.

Timber in Southeast Alaska generates a paltry $3 million annually. Employing just over 100 civilians (less than 4% of employment), it is estimated that the U.S. Forest Service loses more than $20 million annually subsidizing industrial-scale old-growth timber sales. Since 1980, this single National Forest may have lost up to $1 billion in subsidized sales. This deficit is undisputed. And the bulk of timber from these ancient trees is shipped to China to be processed into cheap goods.

Recognizing the Tongass’ greater value as a tourist destination and salmon habitat, the US Forest Service (USFS) spent three years drafting a new Tongass Land Management Plan, wrapping up the drafting process in late 2015. While the draft plan includes improvements for timber management practices—namely, moving harvest to young growth trees—it’s unknown when the USFS will codify these new amendments.

“Of the 193 million acres of National Forests in the United States, the streams of the Tongass National Forest are unsurpassed as productive salmon spawning and rearing habitat,” says Mike Dombeck, former Chief of the US Forest Service. “Tourism, recreation, fish and wildlife are the lifeblood of Southeast Alaska. I applaud the progress the Forest Service has made in moving away from the harvest of old growth and encourage an even faster transition to protecting these old growth forests. These trees and streams are the ‘gold’ of Alaska that will be there providing for future generations as long as we take care of them.”

While the music industry consumes little timber compared to other wood-based industries, such as that of paper production, guitar manufacturers, musicians and other industry stakeholders have the power to highlight—and potentially re-shape—policies that harm our most precious forests.

Musicians for Forests holds the vision of pulling together acoustic guitar manufacturers, musicians, soundboard suppliers, retailers, NGOs, and outdoor manufacturers to end the clearcutting of old-growth Sitka spruce in the Tongass. Ultimately, the aim is to place an Industry-wide moratorium on clearcut, old-growth Sitka spruce from the Tongass for guitar production by the end of 2016. 

Guitar manufacturers are encouraged to use whatever clearcut old-growth Sitka spruce they hold in inventory. Post-2016, these companies are encouraged to never again purchase old-growth timber that was harvested through clearcutting. Musicians and consumers are encouraged to purchase instruments made from sustainably harvested Sitka spruce following 2016. The movement does not promote throwing away instruments that weren’t made from sustainably harvested wood, an action which would be equally wasteful.

Musicians for Forests is highly collaborative. The campaign recently launched and collaborators to-date include names such as Bedell Guitars, Santa Cruz Guitar Company, Patagonia, Inc., Howler Brothers, Stand for Trees, REVERB, as well as an entire line-up of prominent musicians, including Wrinkle Neck Mules, Zach Gill (ALO and Jack Johnson), Adam Gardner (Guster), and Nashville legend Dean Dillon.

The acoustic guitar community can take a stand for the Tongass independent of governmental regulations and laws because it’s simply the right thing to do, not because Capitol Hill prescribes a sustainable course of action. Precious old-growth tonewood resources can be sourced by the music industry without clearcutting significant stands of 500 year-old trees.

To learn more or to collaborate, visit



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