The Bush administration today recommended against designating any virgin parts of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska as wilderness. Wilderness designation would protect such places in their undisturbed state by banning road building, clearcutting, mining and other development. The Forest Service decision is the result of a court order prompted by an Earthjustice lawsuit. The court required the Forest Service to review 9.4 million acres of roadless forest in the Tongass for possible wilderness designation before proceeding with additional development.
"I think Americans will be shocked by this decision," said Earthjustice attorney Deirdre McDonnell. "Future generations will ask how, in 9.4 million acres of the world's last intact temperate rainforest, the Bush Administration didn't see one acre worth preserving as wilderness."
"It's hard to interpret this decision as anything other than an example of the current administration's extreme pro-industry bent. We had hoped they'd take a more balanced approach," said Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo. "There are 10 billion board feet of timber within easy striking distance of the existing road system in the Tongass. Unfortunately, the real gravy for the logging companies is in the biggest remaining old-growth trees in the roadless parts of the forest."
The administration's recommendation against protecting any more of the Tongass through wilderness designation follows earlier decisions to abandon protections for these same areas through the roadless rule established by the prior administration. Millions of Americans spoke out in favor of protecting the Tongass roadless areas along with other major roadless areas on America's national forests.
"This administration has sought to hide their efforts to undermine protections for our last great forests with carefully chosen rhetoric. The Forest Service recommendation is a shining example of how hollow their talk of protecting roadless values really is," said Marty Hayden of Earthjustice. "Americans have spoken loudly about their desire to see roadless national forests protected but their voices have been drowned out by timber corporations and their former lobbyists who now oversee the Forest Service."
The Tongass is the crown jewel of the national forest system. It's a remote coastal rainforest with centuries old trees providing critical habitat for wolves, grizzly bears, wild salmon, bald eagles and other wildlife that have disappeared from other parts of the country. During the last 45 years the Alaska timber industry has clearcut over hundreds of thousands acres of old growth forest and built more than 4,650 miles of logging roads in the Tongass. These roads and timber sales have been subsidized by the American taxpayer to the tune of $30 million per year according to the General Accounting Office.
The Forest Service is accepting public comment on the wilderness review recommendations until August 17.