Juneau, AK (January 25, 2008) -- Today, the Bush administration took its third swipe in recent weeks at opening protected areas in America’s national forests to logging before it leaves office. A Bush plan announced today puts a “for sale” sign on trees in vast swaths of the nation’s largest national forest – the Tongass rainforest in Alaska.
This move by Bush officials to reverse roadless area protections joins two others made recently in the national forests located in Idaho and Colorado.
“The few remaining roadless areas of our national forests are some of the only safe harbors for America’s wildlife. As global warming threatens to change dramatically the landscape we must have the foresight to preserve these last remaining pristine forests for future generations,” said Mary Beth Beetham at Defenders of Wildlife. “It’s folly for the Bush administration, in its last few months, to work to destroy these areas.”
The Bush administration’s just-released management plan for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska puts millions of pristine acres in this ancient rainforest on the auction block to the timber industry, yet will raise no revenue for the U.S. government, as the U.S. taxpayers themselves will have to pay to build the roads the timber companies need to access the forest. The Tongass is the largest national forest in the country.
“With so much of our forest heritage already lost, every roadless acre counts. The spectacular roadless areas in Alaska deserve as much protection as those in every other state,” said Larry Edwards with Greenpeace in Sitka, Alaska.
Today’s decision is part of the Bush administration’s rapidly materializing last-ditch assault on public lands in general and roadless areas in particular. Having failed so far in their attempt to do away with the popular Roadless Rule nationwide, Bush appointees now are pursuing a piecemeal attack. Already in Colorado and Idaho, Bush administration plans are near completion to roll back the Roadless Rule and open protected areas to development. The Roadless Rule protects undeveloped backcountry areas in the national forests from most logging and new road construction.
“The Roadless Rule and the courts have sheltered many of the last, best places in our national forests, even during an administration hostile to forest protection. Now, with one foot out the door, Bush officials are looking for whatever way they can to give away the family silver,” said Franz Matzner at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Tongass logging fell dramatically in the 1990s, and for years now has existed at levels that don’t require slicing roads and clearcuts into virgin old-growth forests, as the Forest Service itself has acknowledged.
“Today,” said Caitlin Hills with American Lands Alliance, “the federal government, in defiance of the facts and the strongly expressed sentiments of the American people to protect all roadless areas, has answered ‘fire up the chainsaws.’”
“The Tongass is the crown jewel of our nation’s roadless wildlands,” said Trish Rolfe at Alaska Sierra Club. “Wild salmon, bears, eagles, and wolves thrive there among moss-draped ancient trees, along crystalline fjords and untamed rivers. It has nine million acres of roadless areas that lack permanent protection. The Bush administration has just put some of the best of them on the chopping block.”
In 2003, the Bush administration began to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, but was unable to proceed with new timber sales in roadless areas due to critical defects in the forest plan. Today’s plan was supposed to correct those defects, but still reopens pristine areas to logging and road construction. Because other state-specific exemptions are as yet only plans, the Tongass is the only national forest where such logging would even arguably be allowed.
“All over the Tongass there are roadless wildlands that local people and visitors hold dear, jeopardized by this new plan,” said Gregory Vickrey with Tongass Conservation Society. “These are special places critical to the region's incredible fish, deer and other wildlife, world-famous recreational opportunities, cherished subsistence practices, and the businesses and jobs that depend on the region's natural treasures. These are the very things that make Southeast Alaskans most want to live here.”
The land management plan released today was ordered more than two years ago by a federal court which concluded that the old plan justifying opening Tongass wildlands for development was invalid due to several factors, including a gross overestimation of demand for Tongass logs. Congress has also expressed concern with Tongass wilderness logging. The House of Representative has voted three times to stop taxpayer dollars from funding new logging roads there.
“This plan simply ignores economic realities. Logging these pristine areas makes no sense. The evidence is clear, there is no demand for Tongass timber and the federal government is simply throwing good money after bad building expensive roads in remote areas to sell timber the global economy can’t absorb,” said Christy Goldfuss with Environment America.
More than half of the lands within the national forest system -- public lands owned by all Americans -- have already been subjected to development and road building at great expense to the taxpayer. In fact, the Forest Service cannot even maintain the 400,000 miles of roads that already crisscross the national forest system. It has accumulated a $6 billion maintenance backlog for its crumbling current road system.
“The Forest Service is losing money hand over fist on roads that Americans don’t even want,” Ms. Goldfuss concluded.
“You may hear the Bush administration pay lip service to roadless area protection in connection with this plan, but make no mistake, millions of acres are at risk,” said Tom Waldo at Earthjustice. “The feds are just saying if they don’t rob us today, they’ll rob us tomorrow.”