In yet another after-hours environmental attack led by U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey, a former timber lobbyist, the Forest Service announced today a federal rule that will allow logging and roadbuilding in the roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
The Bush administration rule, announced the day before Christmas Eve, exempts the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. This landmark conservation policy was designed to protect 58.5 million acres of pristine national forest land from logging and roadbuilding. Nine million acres of the Tongass was protected under this roadless rule. The new rule exempting the Tongass announced today is the result of a sweetheart deal to end a court challenge to the roadless rule brought by the State of Alaska.
Widespread opposition to undoing Tongass roadless protections was expressed this summer when the public sent more than a quarter of a million comments in opposition to the proposal. These comments followed more than two million comments supporting the roadless rule in response to prior notices. Mr. Rey recently said that public opposition to rulemaking is “not a referendum” and that he would not “count votes” from the public.
“The Bush administration has turned its back on the public, good science, and the law in its effort to clearcut the Tongass,” said Tom Waldo, Earthjustice attorney. “This is obviously a Christmas present from the Bush administration to the timber industry which wants the right to clearcut in America’s greatest temperate rainforest.”
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.
“To remove Roadless Rule protection for the Tongass is akin to exempting Yellowstone from the National Park system. It makes no sense,” said Martin Hayden, Vice President of Policy and Legislation for Earthjustice in Washington, DC.