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Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act

Tongass Conservation Proposal – A Necessary Action

Despite long-standing support for conserving key community use areas, the Tongass National Forest is under attack. There’s little choice but for Congress to safeguard Tongass lands for fishing, hunting, recreation, subsistence and other existing rainforest uses. The Act gives lasting protection to areas Southeast Alaskans care about and depend upon.

1967 Over thirty years ago, the first citizen’s wilderness proposal sought to conserve important commercial fishing and community use areas, but many of these areas, like Deep and Ushk Bays near Sitka, were not protected.

1980-1990 Many of the areas safeguarded by the Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act like Port Houghton, East Kuiu, and Upper Tenakee Inlet, would have been designated as Wilderness in the 1989 version of the Tongass Timber Reform Act that passed the House of Representatives with an overwhelming majority.

1987-2001 After struggling for 12 long years to win protections for these areas, plus the Cleveland Peninsula, Southeast Alaskans thought we could rest assured that at least these valuable places would not be logged under the Forest Plan. Before the ink was dry on the Plan, however, a timber industry lawsuit stripped away protections, and the Bush Administration refused to defend its own agency’s plan.

Today, the Bush administration revised the enormously popular Roadless Area Conservation Rule and gutted protections for the most valuable habitat and community-use areas on the Tongass. The Forest Service is moving "full speed ahead" on timber sale planning in Roadless Areas and is moving agency decision-makers into the Tongass who are openly hostile to conservation.

More threats to key watersheds are on the horizon, though Southeast Alaskans have made every effort to protect these areas through the Forest Service's public processes.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed former timber industry lobbyist Mark Rey as Undersecretary of Agriculture, giving him immense power over all National Forests. As Murkowski’s committee staffer, Rey spent years devising ways to strip hard-won Congressional protections from lands like the Nutkwa River on Prince of Wales Island and Kadashan near Tenakee Springs – places that are vital for the health and livelihoods of Southeast Alaskan communities.

The recent announcement that Steve Brink will supervise Alaskan forests leaves no doubt that the Tongass is in trouble. During Brink’s previous Tongass tenure, we saw quashed science, roads that the Forest Service’s own engineers said were a bad idea, proposals for unsustainably high logging levels, and more.

For nearly 50 years, the Forest Service gave logging a priority over all other Tongass National Forest users, with monopoly pulp mill contracts driving out small-scale, high value-added, locally-owned logging operations and dominating Tongass management. After decades of heavily subsidized road building and clearcutting, the timber industry has destroyed over 70% of the region’s biggest and best old growth trees. Only 1.5% of the land left within the boundaries of the Tongass still contain the rare low elevation stands of enormous old growth trees that are of the highest value to fish and wildlife – the biological heart of this forest.

Eighty percent of the salmon caught in Southeast Alaska spawn and rear in the Tongass National Forest. Commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries need healthy streams for healthy wild salmon runs.

More than 80% of the region’s rural households, Native and non-Native, engage in subsistence food gathering in the Tongass. In some rural communities, hunting and fishing provide most of a family’s food supply.

In 2000, about 830,000 travelers came to Southeast Alaska to tour, fish, hunt and photograph the Tongass’ awe-inspiring rainforest and wildlife. Leaving trees standing for tourism and recreation contributes at least 9 times more than logging to the region’s economy.

There are currently roughly 10 billion board feet of timber along the existing forest road system in the Tongass National Forest. This timber, along with more than 3 billion board feet located on private lands in Southeast Alaska, is available under the Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act.

The Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act safeguards Tongass lands by freeing them from the pressures of damaging industrial-scale clearcutting. Conserving these lands will protect the ecosystem integrity of this remarkable rainforest, sustain a small-scale timber industry in Southeast Alaska, preserve commercial, sport and subsistence fishing streams, and reserve lands for sport and subsistence hunting, tourism and local recreation.

See the map of the Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act here.

  • Tongass National Forest


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