November 13, 2000 - This proposal is a major stride toward fulfilling the historic promise President Clinton made last year to save our last wild forests for future generations. If the president closes two remaining loopholes next month, he will give the American public its biggest environmental Christmas present ever.
More than a million Americans wrote the Forest Service, asking it to stop all logging in roadless areas and not to exclude our largest and wildest national forest, the magnificent Tongass rainforest. The agency responded by proposing to limit logging to "stewardship" purposes, and to include the Tongass in the year 2004.
There remain serious flaws. At this moment the timber industry is bringing new mill facilities on line to hasten the destruction of virgin old growth valleys in the Tongass. In four years time cut levels will be much higher, unspeakable harm will have been done, and intense political pressure will exist to keep logging at increased levels.
And the stewardship clause is the exception that could swallow the rule. Already, most Forest Service logging is billed as "stewardship," including outright clearcutting in some cases.
Still, the agency has turned a critical corner by including a partial logging ban and agreeing that ultimately the Tongass ought to be included. The Forest Service deserves great credit for running the most extensive public process in public lands history and for hearing what the public said. This is an agency that, under the farsighted leadership of Chief Mike Dombeck, is really beginning to act like the conservation force it claims -- and the public wants it -- to be.
It is now up to President Clinton to bring this initiative home by closing the stewardship loophole and including the Tongass immediately. And it's up to the American people to let him know they want him to do that, by writing and phoning the White House.