U.S. Forest Service Approves Plans To Clearcut Roadless Old-Growth in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

by John J. Berger, Ph.D and Lani Maher

A plan by Viking Lumber Company of Craig, Alaska to clearcut more than five square miles of pristine old growth forest in the Tongass National Forest has run into stiff opposition. On January 11, 2010, a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska by the Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, and Cascadia Wildlands claiming that the USFS failed to consider the profoundly damaging effects that the Logjam Timber project on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska would have on local wildlife. The project specifically opens 3,422 acres for logging, almost all of which is old-growth. The project is expected to produce 73 million board feet of timber and require the construction of 22 miles of new roads.

An additional suit has been filed by the Organized Village of Kake, an Alaska Native village, to overturn the Tongass exemption to the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, claiming the exemption was to be temporary and is still being illegally implemented by the Forest Service. Several conservation and tourism groups have joined in the lawsuit.

Tongass National Forest, Douglas Island in Juneau, Alaska. September, 2004

The Roadless Rule, adopted by the U.S. Forest Service in 2001 under the Clinton Administration, prevented the construction of new roads in all existing roadless areas of our National Forests. However, in 2003, the Tongass National Forest was exempted from the Roadless Rule through an amendment to the rule proposed by then-Governor of Alaska Frank Murkowski and adopted by the Bush Administration.

In response to these lawsuits, Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell has come to the defense of the timber industry by ordering the Office of Attorney General Daniel S. Sullivan to intervene in the cases to protect timber jobs and uphold the Tongass’ exemption from the Roadless Rule.

Misty Fjords Waterfall, Ketchikan, Alaska. May, 2007

As pointed out in Forests Forever: Their Ecology, Restoration, and Protection, logging in the Tongass is a very costly way to produce jobs. “Data obtained from the USFS and cited by the nonpartisan budget watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, revealed in 2005 that each direct timber job created in the Tongass National Forest in 2002 cost $170,000 – quadruple the average U.S. 2002 household income – hardly a sensible way to create rural employment.” Furthermore we noted that, “whereas Tongass timber cannot be profitably cut on a large commercial scale in an ecologically sustainable manner, fishing and tourism in Alaska and elsewhere could provide more jobs and revenue than could the continued destruction of the old-growth forest.”

The Tongass is the nation’s largest stand of continuous temperate rain forest and covers about seventeen million acres. Much of the forest targeted for logging is old growth that took thousands of years to evolve and, if cut, will never return to its old-growth condition on any time scale of interest to present generations. For more information about the Tongass and the general effects that clearcutting has on forests, see Forests Forever, which also contains recommendations on national and global forest-saving action needed (pages 166-231) as well as guidance for citizens reviewing federal timber sales (pages 239-248).

Take Action-What You Can Do To Help Protect the Tongass

    Contact the following officials and tell them why protection of the Tongass is important to you.

  • President Barack Obama
    Contact Form
    Comments for the President: (202) 456-1111

  • United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
    Ph: (202) 720-3631

  • United States Forest Service Director Sherry Reckler
    Ph: (707) 562-9016

  • Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin
    Ph: (907) 465-2400

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    1. Pemberton, Mary. “Suit Seeks to Overturn Tongass Roadless Exemption.” Associated Press. December 23, 2009.

Additional Resources

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*Note: Pictures featured in this post are not the property of Healthy Forests, but have been released for public use. You can click on them to view them in their original context.

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