I don't think I've ever read a more discouraging article than The Forest Service Follies (March 14), by John Skow. Considering the $600 million that Skow says the government loses on below-cost timber sales, no doubt plenty of congressmen will get letters from your readers demanding that something be done to stop the idiotic waste of natural resources by the Forest Service. I'm not a tree-hugger, but what is being done in Alaska is disgusting.
Wright, Kans.

The absurd, shortsighted view of the federal government in dealing with the Tongass National Forest is mind-numbing. Surely Alaska's fishing and tourist industries, which are healthy and do not cause the kind of irreparable environmental damage that forest clear-cutting does, are more economically feasible than a timber industry that loses 91¬¨¬®¬¨¢ to 99¬¨¬®¬¨¢ on every taxpayer dollar. The only travesty greater than the senseless razing of the land that is occurring in the Tongass would be to let the razing continue. I hope readers will write to their congressmen in support of legislation that will stop this destruction of an irreplaceable ecosystem.
The Woodlands, Texas

John Skow's account brings home with force a sad truth about our political system: Once a bureaucracy gets planted and starts to grow, it learns to thrive on its own self-preservation.
Lawrenceville, Ga.

As one who lives close by the Tongass National Forest and who has witnessed firsthand the destruction wrought on this once beautiful land by the logging companies, I applaud you. The Tongass timber harvest policy is a joke, but what it is doing to the Tongass isn't funny.
Juneau, Alaska

I am an employee of the U.S. Forest Service, and my displeasure over this hatchet journalism is such that I hereby request the cancellation of my subscription. John Skow may know how to split firewood or be mildly cognizant of the origins of a two-by-four or a sheet of plywood, but this does not confer on him a degree in forestry or expertise in the policies of land use and administration.

A bureaucratic tangle does exist in the Forest Service, as it does in any governmental department. But the tangle was created by the legislature, not the agency. Legislation such as the Multiple-Use and Sustained-Yield Act never fully superseded earlier acts, leaving managers juggling conflicting guidelines.

It is easy to pick an example like the Tongass, where excesses have occurred, but elsewhere in the nation some local economies have few other resources than receipts from Forest Service timber sales. Some rural counties use the receipts for maintenance of public facilities, such as roads and schools.

Finally, while I agree that the preservation of anadromous fish populations is a crucial issue, the greater issue is the dramatic increase in the demand for fish and the failure to control the harvest to preserve the resource.

John Skow's article touched a nerve here in Washington, D.C., and back in Alaska. Alaskans are used to a lack of objectivity on the part of the national environmental lobby when it challenges our livelihoods, but we regret seeing such an attack in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.

Over the years, Congress has faced the challenge of balancing the costs and benefits of having designated wilderness areas on federal lands. Few Americans question the aesthetic value of these wilderness areas, but far fewer want to acknowledge that this value comes with a price tag. Where that price has been measured, it has been high.

In Southeast Alaska, the federal government owns 95% of the land, and four-fifths of that land is the Tongass National Forest. To put that in perspective, the Tongass covers an area larger than West Virginia. Of this huge area, only 10% will be logged. Because of the forest's unquestioned beauty and abundant wildlife, some people want it put off limits to any kind of intrusion by man, but this ignores the fact that the timber companies in the Tongass provide jobs for small communities that have no road access to one another. Nowhere does Skow show concern for the people whose jobs would be lost. The compensation paid by the Forest Service in the Tongass permits the people of Southeast Alaska to maintain an industry to which the federal government and Alaskans have been committed for 30 years. More plainly put: What price wilderness?
U.S. Senators, Alaska
U.S. Representative, Alaska
Washington, D.C.

Letters to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED should include the name, address and home telephone number of the writer and should be addressed to The Editor, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, N.Y. 10020-1393.