Tongass Land Use Management Plan
The US Forest Service proposed a new draft management plan that leaves the majority of roadless old growth forests open to commercial logging. The Tongass National Forest is now the only National Forest in the country where roadless areas are not protected from logging and road construction. The irony is that the new plan is required by a court decision that found the Forest Service had illegally doubled the estimate of market demand for timber. This poor analysis was driving them to propose to log over 250 million board feet in wild forests although the timber industry had only bought less than 50 millon board feet on average over the last six years. The Bush administration should be focused on protecting all of the wild roadless forests of the Tongass -- not proposing more logging schemes at taxpayer expense.
The new draft forest plan for the Tongass is the result of an August 2005 decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on a case called NRDC vs. the Forest Service, (with Sierra Club as a co-plaintiff.). The court found, as the plaintiffs had alleged, that the Forest Service had made a calculation error that doubled the estimates regarding projected market demand for Tongass wood. As a result the forest plan had designated much more land then was appropriate for logging, particularly logging in sensitive roadless areas. The truth of this claim is borne out by the fact that, while the old plan allowed up to 257 million board feet (mbf) of timber to be sold every year, the actual amount of wood cut has averaged less then 50 over the last six years. Even this level of cut came about only because of extraordinarily high taxpayer subsidies.
So what does the court-mandated Tongass Forest Plan revision do? The DEIS analyzes seven alternatives, ranging from 50 mbf a year to 420 mbf a year. All of these alternatives allow logging in important Tongass watersheds, even the 50 million BF one, but incredibly, the Forest Services proposed alternative would again allow up to 257 mbf to be cut annually, as much cutting as under the old, illegal plan and five times as much logging as the six-year average. Up to 80 percent of this logging would of necessity have to come from roadless areas.
And how does the Forest Service rationalize this increase? They say their plan accommodates a new and revitalized logging industry in Southeast Alaska. An industry they hope to create. Wishful thinking: Tongass timber remains uncompetitive in the market place.
The Question of Subsidies: Adding Insult to Injury
The Tongass National Forest has the highest subsidy level of any National Forest. This was true in the days of the pulp mills when indiscriminate logging of the most accessible watersheds and the biggest trees led to almost 70% of the highest volume acres being cut. It is even more true today. Currently the Forest Service is losing more than $45 million each year on its Tongass timber program. This translates into about $200,000 for every logging and mill job generated by the program. And a large part of this loss is generated by the Forest Services road building program.
Nearly every roadless area sale has depended on the American taxpayer paying directly for the road building. This happens nowhere else in the National Forest System. Many times the Forest Service pays for and constructs a road before they have even found a mill willing to buy the timber! One example is the infamous 8 mbf Midway Sale. This proposal was to cut in an extremely high value and uncut watershed south of Hoonah, Alaska. When the sale failed to attract any bidders, Alaskas Senator Ted Stevens earmarked funds to pre-road it at a cost of over $2 million. Several years and several re-offerings later the sale sold for less then $60 million.
This is only one of many examples of taxpayer financed environmental destruction on the Tongass. High labor costs, rough terrain, severe climate, and long distances to markets make cutting Tongass timber un-economic and without subsidies there would be no roadless area logging on the Tongass. Since 1982 taxpayers have lost over $1 billion propping up the Tongass timber industry. And every year more money is earmarked for the Forest Service to continue to build timber sale roads. Under the Forest Services new proposed alternative, every roadless area sale will almost certainly require a pre-roading contract to attract a bidder.
The Sierra Clubs vision for the Tongass is one where all its wild places are protected. It is one where the economies of the region and its communities are in harmony with their wild setting. Our vision recognizes that even as the timber industry has become more un-competitive, the recreation and visitor industries have expanded and become the true economic drivers of Southeast Alaska. Yet to help these industries, the Forest Service spends only a tenth of what they spend to promote logging. Our vision for a new Forest Plan would move funding from the timber program to managing appropriate recreation and tourism. It would recognize that 435,000 acres of existing clearcuts need restoration. Our vision is one of repairing the damage resulting from past logging practices, not one of creating yet more damage.
In stark contrast is the vision put forward by the Bush administrations Forest Service. They would return to logging levels that havent been seen since the pulp mills closed more than a decade ago. This would call for continued assaults against pristine Tongass roadless watersheds. To farther their aims they seek the establishment of new industries like veneer and fiberboard mills, for which they are willing to raid the Federal treasury.
Located in Southeast Alaska, the Tongass National Forest, at 17 million acres, is the United States largest national forest. (Even if divided in two, each part would still be the two largest national forests.) An archipelago, its roadless watersheds create an ideal home for wild salmon, grizzly and black bears, bald eagles, deer, and wolf. Its waters are home to whales, orcas, and seals. These forested islands and peninsulas are laced with small springs and streams that feed thousands of short productive rivers that flow into pristine saltwater bays. A sport fishing paradise, the Tongass National Forest also supports nearly half of Alaskas commercial salmon fishery. Although the Tongass contains about 9 million acres of roadless areas, more then two thirds of this land, while spectacular, comprises glaciers, ice fields, rocky mountain ranges, and scrub forest, rather than real forest. The low elevation areas with ancient stands of big tree forest are also the prime habitat for wild salmon and other Tongass wildlife species. Already, through a combination of Native corporation and federal logging, approximately 1 million acres of this irreplaceable old growth forest has been clear cut in the past century. The resulting second growth areas are nearly useless as wildlife habitat. Because of the slow growth rate in most of Southeast Alaska they will remain that way for 150 to 250 years.
Take Action at: http://www.sierraclub.org/forests/
Let the Forest Service know you believe its time for a change in the Tongass! Write a comment letter by April 10, 2007. Tell them we must move away from wasteful spending on a flawed logging program and toward a new plan which makes sense for Alaskan communities and safeguards the intact watersheds in Tongass National Forest for generations to come!
To view the Draft Plan: http://tongass-fpadjust.net/index.htm
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