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Earthjustice was more than a little surprised to hear that a regional office of the Tongass National Forest is moving ahead with plans to open a roadless area in America's largest temperate rainforest to logging. The Central Kupreanof timber sale project, would carve 15 miles of new roads and log 1,339 acres of old growth forest.

But this is not a done deal. As the press release from the regional national forest office admits…

"The Final EIS is being released without an accompanying Record of Decision (ROD) in light of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary's memorandum dated May 28, 2009, which stated the Secretary reserved decision-making authority over construction and reconstruction of roads and the cutting, sale or removal of timber in Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA)."

Earthjustice attorney, Tom Waldo called the news, "a reckless action by local officials in the Tongass National Forest…The Secretary of Agriculture should just say no to this project."

The final decision now sits on the desk of Agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack.

What does it take to peel back the abstractions of email, press reports, and legal briefs and really see some of what is at stake in Earthjustice's work? It's as easy as getting away from the computer, out of airports, and off the interstate.

Over the last couple of weeks I was lucky enough to travel across the Great Plains and the Rockies. Everywhere I went, I saw our country wrestling with the big challenges of energy supply and climate change, biodiversity and wildlands protection, and the human consequences of poorly enforced environmental standards.

This piece from New York Times editorial writer Verlyn Klinkenborg on proposed gas drilling in the Catskill mountains of New York pulled at my heartstrings. To date, much of the criticism of the drilling proposals has centered on the risk to drinking water. And rightly so: while drilling for gas, companies inject millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the underground rock deposits to force the gas to the surface.

As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to "uphold and defend" the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which set out to protect nearly 60 million acres of pristine national forest lands across the country. Not long ago, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has responsibility for the Forest Service among many things, announced that he will personally review any projects proposed in roadless areas. This move was labelled a year-long "time out" for road building and logging by some in the media, but in fact, there's no guarantee.

The Ketchikan newspaper just published a long editorial titled "We Love Surprises," urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to surprise them and approve some new roads and timber sales in the Tongass National Forest despite the recent directive that suggests the administration is planning to take a year or two to study the situation and decide whether to make the 2001 Roadless Rule permanent.

Remember "Healthy Forests"? This was one of the euphonious program names hatched by Karl Rove or another of the Bush wordsmiths to mask a real purpose. There was also the Clear Skies Initiative, which actually aimed to weaken the Clean Air Act.

Healthy Forests argued that the best way to control wildlfire and protect rural communities was to thin the forests of dead brush and sick trees, such growth having accumulated to dangerous levels owing to decades of fire suppression.

Back in my early days at Earthjustice I got into an argument with a colleage that has stuck with me ever since. She (no names) observed that if we—the movement in general—conceded that restoration of damaged ecosystems is possible that we'll never be able to protect forests, wetlands, parks and the like because developers could simply say they'll eventually restore the land to its former glory.

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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.