Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today challenging Forest Service plans to resume wide scale clearcutting of Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The Tongass National Forest, at 16.8 million acres, is the nation's largest national forest.
The lawsuit challenges the Tongass Land Management Plan and six timber sales in roadless areas under the plan. The logging plans, which are just the beginning of an upcoming Bush administration assault on the roadless areas of the Tongass, violate federal laws protecting wildlife and other values of the national forests. The plans also violate laws requiring full public disclosure of impacts. The Forest Service has failed to heed the findings of government science panels showing that wildlife populations would be put at risk by high levels of clearcut logging in key habitat. The Forest Service's plans put at risk hundreds of thousands of acres of Tongass roadless area habitat unnecessarily, since market demand for Tongass timber is at an all-time low. On top of this, the plans fail to disclose to the public the truth about this excessive logging and the full costs to the taxpayer of carrying out this aggressive clearcutting program.
"The Forest Service is misleading the American public, putting wildlife and habitat at risk, and violating its own regulations with these timber sales," said Nicole Whittington Evans, assistant regional director, Alaska, for The Wilderness Society. "We can't stand by and let the Forest Service give these resources away."
Lawyers from Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council are representing Natural Resources Defense Council, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society, and Center for Biological Diversity in this action. Conservation groups are forced to bring the legal challenge now because Alaska's Senator Ted Stevens recently rammed a law through Congress that sharply reduces the public's right to contest management decisions affecting the Tongass.
"The Forest Service has turned its back on the public, good science, and the law in its effort to clearcut the Tongass," said Tom Waldo, Earthjustice attorney.
The lawsuit comes on the eve of an expected Bush administration action formally removing the Tongass National Forest from the protections of the widely supported Roadless Area Conservation Rule. This will reopen more of the formerly protected wild lands of the Tongass to road building and logging. The Tongass National Forest already has over 5,000 miles of roads crisscrossing it, enough roads to drive from Seattle to Miami and then north to Boston. The Forest Service is proposing to build enough roads over the next ten years in the Tongass to drive from Boston to St. Louis.
"Under the leadership of the Bush administration's appointee Mark Rey, a former lobbyist for the timber industry, the Forest Service has, by refusing to defend the roadless rule's application to the Tongass National Forest, made this lawsuit timely and necessary. With nearly 50 roadless-area timber sales being planned for the coming years, threatening wildlife and wild lands that are unique in America, the Bush/Rey Forest Service has decided to reverse three decades of progress on Tongass conservation and we just can't let that happen," said Mark Rorick, Chair of the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club.
"We've only got one Tongass National Forest anywhere on earth, and we're fortunate enough to have it here in the United States. The hundreds of thousands of Americans who have spoken out in recent decisions about Tongass protection agree it makes more sense to take care of it than to destroy it," said Keiran Suckling of Center for Biological Diversity.
"The 1997 Tongass plan ignored key recommendations by a prestigious panel of wildlife scientists," said Dr. John Schoen, Senior Scientist for Audubon Alaska. "Protecting the forest's remaining stands of largest old-growth trees is essential for maintaining healthy fish and wildlife populations in the Tongass."
People living in and around the Tongass in southeast Alaska voiced their frustration at how the logging will harm wildlife they rely on for food and forest uses that drive the local economy.
"Today the timber industry in Southeast Alaska is dwarfed by the main economic drivers of commercial fishing, tourism and recreation, government and health care. With attempts to dramatically increase Tongass logging, the Forest Service is looking backwards and ignoring the region's economic needs. More clearcuts only give us damaged forests, displaced non-timber businesses, and declining wildlife populations," said Aurah Landau, community organizer with Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
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Tom Waldo, Earthjustice, 907-586-2751
Aurah Landau, SEACC, 907-586-6942
Nicole Whittington-Evans, TWS, 907-272-9453
Mark Rorick, Sierra Club, 907-789-5472
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