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Don't Sacrifice the Tongass for the Trees

Regional officials with Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the crown jewel of our national forest system, recently announced plans to log nearly 1,500 acres of old-growth forest in two roadless areas. The Central Kupreanof and Sue timber sales jeopardize intact blocks of old-growth habitat within one of the last remaining temperate rainforests in the world.

The logging projects contradict President Barack Obama's pledge, made as a presidential candidate, to support full protection of 58.5 million acres of our nation's roadless forests, which include 9.5 million acres in the Tongass. These roadless areas are some of our nation's last truly wild places.

Fortunately, the administration now has a tremendous opportunity to make good on Obama's promise. Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has taken on the responsibility of personally reviewing all proposed timber sales in roadless areas and can stop these projects with a pen stroke. In addition to blocking these timber sales, Sec. Vilsack needs to restore full protections to the Tongass under the Roadless Rule, because only then will old-growth stands in the Tongass truly be safe. Earthjustice and other groups are asking Sec. Vilsack to do exactly that in an ad that started running today in some Washington, D.C. publications.

The Roadless Rule, put in place nearly nine years ago on the back of overwhelming public support, was established to protect those 58.5 million acres of pristine forests nationwide from development. That monumental conservation victory was quickly kneecapped by the Bush administration, which—in defiance of the public—spent eight years fighting to let industry despoil those great wild lands.

Spoiled, they are not—thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of Earthjustice staff over the past nine years. And today we may be on the cusp of restoring full protections for these national treasures. In August, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated roadless protections for nearly 40 million acres of designated roadless areas. But, the court decision did not safeguard the Tongass, because of a Bush-era exemption adopted in 2003.

In the Tongass, we see why conservation of roadless areas is so important. It is the heart of a unique temperate rainforest ecosystem in which traditional lifestyles and a rich array of wildlife, including rare species like the Alexander Archipelago wolf, as well as tremendous populations of economically vital Pacific salmon species, thrive. Mountains of the magnificent Coast Range watch over its canopy like sentinels, providing all who dwell there and those seeking the thrill of outdoor recreation with an unparalleled experience. Indeed, the Tongass is a reminder of exactly how roadless areas are most valuable to us: as they are.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.