Today, the U.S. Forest Service announced its process to transition away from large-scale old-growth logging in the Tongass, but conservation groups caution that this transition must be executed much more quickly than the proposed 10 to 15 year time frame. The agency has released a “notice of intent” to amend the current management plan for America’s largest national forest located in southeast Alaska. While this amendment process will be instrumental to implementing USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s 2013 proposal to “speed the transition” away from old-growth logging in the Tongass, the plan set forth today by the Forest Service allows for the continual pillaging of Tongass old-growth trees during the next decade and beyond.
Today, the economy in southeast Alaska increasingly relies on the health and beauty of its watersheds – the Tongass is a world class tourist destination and fishery, billion dollar industries that provide more than 10,000 and 7,000 jobs respectively. In 2010, the Forest Service promised a rapid transition away from clear-cut old-growth logging in the Tongass , stressing a commitment to supporting sustainable industries like tourism, fishing and recreation. Yet not long after that announcement, the agency proposed the Big Thorne timber sale, the largest timber sale in any of our nation’s forests in many years and one that would undermine the Forest Service’s stated goal of a sustainable future for the Tongass.
Despite decades of clear-cutting its best old-growth habitat, the Tongass still contains some of the most intact expanses of temperate rainforest remaining in the world. It is a land of spectacular beauty and incredible ecological significance, which provides habitat for all five species of pacific salmon, humpback and orca whales, plus some of the largest concentrations of brown bears and the iconic bald eagle in America. The forest is also home to wildlife found nowhere else on the planet like the Alexander Archipelago wolf, a rare subspecies of wolf that under current management practices is in jeopardy of becoming the first ever Endangered Species Act listed wildlife species in the Tongass. The giant trees of the Tongass, hundreds of years old, are also a warehouse of carbon, helping regulate the planet’s climate.
Now is the time to speed the transition away from old-growth logging and to support southeast Alaska by ensuring that the strongholds of the region’s economy – the tourism, recreation and fishing industries – can depend on the intact ecosystems in our nation’s largest forest.
The following are statements from conservation groups on the Forest Service’s plan:
“I appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s commitment to transitioning away from old-growth logging on the Tongass National Forest, however today’s announcement that assumes a 10-15 year timeline is bad for the forest and bad for the wildlife that call it home,” said Kristen Miller, Conservation Director with Alaska Wilderness League. “Instead of continuing to pour millions in federal tax dollars into a flagging timber industry for another decade-and-a-half, we have to end industrial-scale old-growth logging quickly and we have to support the sustainable and growing economic powerhouses in southeast Alaska, like the commercial fishing, tourism and recreation industries.”
“It’s time for the Forest Service to step into the 21st century on the Tongass and stop unsustainable old-growth logging,” said Jim Adams, Policy Director of Audubon Alaska. “Healthy streams support salmon, and salmon are the foundation of a healthy Tongass, for people and birds.”
“The time has come to stop industrial logging of Southeast Alaska’s ancient forests. The Forest Service has taken a much-needed first step with this announcement, but the Tongass can’t take another 10-15 years of industrial old-growth logging. These giant trees have already been over-logged, threatening the viability of wolves and other species. The old growth of the Tongass is the mainstay of a local economy based on fishing and tourism. The transition needs to be much faster,” said Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo.
"The Forest Service has taken a necessary and overdue first step. But we’re very concerned it doesn’t understand the urgency of the situation. Failure to get out of industrial scale old growth logging sooner than 10 years could lead to endangered species listings and subsistence hunting restrictions. Hopefully, the Forest Service can get off the dime much faster than that,” said Niel Lawrence, Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"The Tongass is some of the world's last best wild temperate rainforest. It's home to salmon, wolves and other wildlife that help support the incredibly important recreation and subsistence economies of southeast Alaska; and it plays a vital role in lessening the impacts of climate disruption that are already being felt around the world. It is long past time for the Forest Service to begin a quick transition to second growth logging to protect the old growth and the region's sustainable economies for future generations," said Dan Ritzman, Alaska Program Director for Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign.
"The Forest Service will need to use this process to dramatically shift their emphasis on the Tongass. Southeast Alaska is not a place for large-scale, export-oriented, industrial forestry. It is a place where people raise families, where people fish for a living and hunt for their families, and where people share our natural resources with visitors from all over the world," said Malena Marvin, Executive Director of Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “We’ll continue to support small wood manufacturers at the community scale, and we’ll look for ways to ensure second growth trees are a part of a diverse local economy.”
Tom Waldo, Earthjustice, 907-500-7123, email@example.com
Corey Himrod, Alaska Wilderness League, 202-544-5205, firstname.lastname@example.org
Beth Peluso, Audubon Alaska, 907-276-7034, email@example.com
Jeff Benzak, Natural Resources Defense Council, 202-513-6248, firstname.lastname@example.org
Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club, 804-225-9113 x 1002, email@example.com
Malena Marvin, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, 907-586-6942, firstname.lastname@example.org
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.