The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will undertake a scientific inquiry to determine whether the Alexander Archipelago Wolf must be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. After more than two years of in-depth scientific review following the filing of a petition to list by the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded there is “substantial scientific or commercial information” indicating that the listing may be warranted. In the next step of the process, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make the ultimate determination whether to list the wolves.
The Tongass National Forest is the ‘crown jewel’ of our forest system, but it has suffered as a result of the decades of unsustainable clear-cutting of old-growth trees. Stopping industrial-scale old-growth logging and preserving wildlife habitat is essential for those wanting to experience the majesty of the country’s most iconic rainforest, as well as those pursuing the Tongass’ unparalleled hunting and fishing opportunities. Today’s announcement should spur the Forest Service to make choices that prevent the destruction of this ancient forest.
Forest Service leaders, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, have announced they want to end industrial-scale old-growth logging on the Tongass. Today’s announcement highlights the urgency of hastening Forest Service efforts to modernize the Tongass Forest Plan in a way that memorializes a rapid transition out of massive old-growth logging, and enhances and restores key wildlife habitat. By reforming management to ensure a healthy, functioning forest, the Forest Service can support our vibrant fishery and tourism sectors and the customary and traditional use of forest resources, particularly deer hunting and salmon fishing.
Regrettably, last summer the Forest Service approved the “Big Thorne” timber project on north central Prince of Wales Island, which is the largest, most aggressive timber sale on the Tongass in 20 years. It would log almost entirely remnant old-growth stands that are vital to the fate of deer and wolf populations in the area as well as many other species. Fortunately, citizen appeals of the Big Thorne project persuaded the agency to put it on hold while a task force re-examines the environmental consequences, including the impacts to the Alexander Archipelago Wolf. Today’s announcement underscores the need to cancel Big Thorne and other large old-growth sales, and switch to sustainable forest management that ensures future fishing, hunting, and tourism on the Tongass.
Quotes from conservation groups:
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took a hard look at the science and reached a decision that demonstrates why continued large-scale old growth logging on the Tongass is not sustainable. It should convince the Forest Service that destruction of this ancient forest is a thing of the past. Continuing massive old growth sales, like Big Thorne, means there won’t be enough deer in the future for both wolves and humans,” said Holly Harris, Staff Attorney with Earthjustice. “The Forest Service must recognize continued large-scale industrial old growth logging hurts Southeast Alaskans and compromises the environmental and economic viability of the Tongass.”
“Today’s announcement opens the door to a new chapter on the Tongass that safeguards its integrity over the long term and spurs development of a truly sustainable forest industry that enhances the economic vitality of Southeast Alaska at the same time as maintaining and strengthening the old-growth forest that supports our way of life. We can’t afford any more short-sighted decisions like the Big Thorne timber sale that aggravate the cumulative loss of crucial old-growth deer habitat on Prince of Wales Island,” said Buck Lindekugel, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council’s grassroots attorney.
“We commend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s science-based decision to consider listing the Alexander Archipelago wolf,” said Kristen Miller, Government Affairs Director, Alaska Wilderness League. “We hope that U.S. FWS’s finding will inform the U.S. Forest Service’s Alexander Archipelago wolf task force, which is currently analyzing the environmental consequences and impact to the wolf from the mammoth and controversial ‘Big Thorne’ timber sale. Today’s announcement underscores the threat that continued cutting of old-growth trees poses in the Tongass National Forest, and the need to work toward implementing a transition plan that ensures a sustainable future for the Tongass.”
“Today’s announcement is a very positive development for anyone who cares about the extraordinary natural values of the Tongass,” said Niel Lawrence, Forestry Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “You could be a fisherman, hunter, guide, tour operator, or just someone who wants to live in or visit a beautiful and vibrant natural forest,” he continued. “This is powerful evidence that old growth logging is not sustainable and needs to change. It should rapidly move the Forest Service to an overdue new day, where destruction of the ancient forest is a thing of the past.”
“This ruling is an alarm bell indicating that the shortsighted way the Forest Service is managing the Tongass has real consequences for wildlife like the Alexander Archipelago Wolf,” said Jim Adams, Policy Director with Audubon Alaska. “It is past time for the Forest Service and Southeast Alaska to move beyond industrial-scale, old-growth clearcutting to management that supports healthy salmon watersheds and the fishing and tourism industries.”
“In the face of destructive old-growth logging plans, this announcement is welcome news for wildlife and the people of southeast Alaska,” said Dan Ritzman, Alaska Regional Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign. “The endangered species protections being considered for the Archipelago Wolf would not only secure a future for wolves, but also the world class salmon streams and recreation economy that depend on a healthy forest.”