A diverse coalition of Alaska Native, tourism industry, and environmental organizations took action today to protect some of the last pristine old-growth areas in the Tongass National Forest. These areas are important to Southeast Alaskans for hunting, fishing, customary and traditional subsistence uses, tourism, and recreation. They are also important to the world for their storage of carbon, which combats global warming.
The lawsuit filed today — Organized Village of Kake v U.S. Department of Agriculture — seeks to end the 2003, Bush-era decision to “temporarily” exempt the Tongass from the national Roadless Rule. The lawsuit asserts that this exemption was illegally adopted.
“We must not lose more roadless areas here,” said Mike Jackson with the Organized Village of Kake. “For Tribal members, these lands are essential sources of food, medicine, clothing, and traditional items for artistic and spiritual use,” he continued. “Our deer hunting and other customary uses of the forest have suffered too much already from past logging,” he added. Two large timber sales are slated for roadless areas near Kake, on North Kuiu Island and Central Kupreanof Island.
“The natural values of these watersheds are essential for the survival of small businesses around Southeast,” explained Hanna Waterstrat, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association. “Very few folks will pay to go see clearcuts and decaying logging roads.”
“Over our 30 years in operation, it has started to get harder to find pristine watersheds to take our clients,” Hunter McIntosh of The Boat Company reported. “Now,” he said, “dropping anchor in a bay free of logging damage often means doubling or tripling up with other tour boats. For the future of our company and our industry, it’s crucial to protect the Tongass wildlands we have left.”
“Intact areas of the Tongass National Forest are the foundation of our unparalleled Southeast Alaska quality of life and of the fish and wildlife that make this forest a global treasure,” explained Mark Gnadt of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “This so-called temporary exemption has become an excuse to delay coming up with a truly sustainable plan for America’s rainforest.”
“After six years of waiting for the Forest Service to come up with a defensible plan for the Tongass, communities, businesses and wildlife of the Tongass can’t wait any longer for the protections they deserve,” said Tom Waldo of Earthjustice, who is co-counsel in the lawsuit along with Natural Resources Defense Council.
Said Mark Rorick of the Sierra Club’s Juneau Group, “It’s time to get rid of this cloud over the future of America’s rainforest. The Bush administration had no business opening up Tongass roadless areas to destructive industrial logging. We need to be sure that loophole is closed for good.
His concerns were echoed by Carol Cairnes of the Tongass Conservation Society, “The Tongass is an icon, the last fully functioning national forest ecosystem left, and the only one where wildlife and fish exist in something like the abundance they enjoyed in days gone by. It’s outrageous that some of the wildest places left in America’s most intact national forest have not received roadless protection yet.”
“The roadless areas on the Tongass National Forest are critical for providing habitat for wildlife species found only in America’s rainforest,” said Natalie Dawson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without protection, the U.S. Forest Service and private industry will continue to chip away at the some of the last remaining, intact stands of old-growth temperate rainforest in the world.”
As USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told the UN Climate Conference last week, Tongass roadless areas also have international significance as they are, “critical in conserving and storing carbon.” The Tongass stores nearly 8 percent of carbon contained in U.S. forests according to Vilsack.
The plaintiffs, represented by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, include the Organized Village of Kake, Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association, The Boat Company, Sierra Club, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, Wrangell Resource Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Cascadia Wildlands in the case.
Read the complaint filed today. (PDF)