Pressing for a Virtuous Tongass Forest Plan

In late August, GSACC and its allied organizations submitted a formal objection to the Forest Service’s Draft Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP) Amendment and accompanying final environmental impact statement. Our objection document is 213 pages, and 105,000 words. The agency intends, late this fall, to issue a decision finalizing the amendment. We thank all of you who commented on the Draft EIS in February.

At stake are the future of the region’s wildlife and the people who use the Tongass, and our ability to have a rational long-term economy. Along with many Southeast Alaska citizens, early in the planning process we called for an immediate end to old-growth logging on the Tongass National Forest, and for a “Tongass transition” that depends very little on logging during the next few decades. That is the only path to sustainability.

In 2010 the Forest Service’s top Alaska official announced a “rapid” transition out of old-growth logging, and to logging second growth. Now, over six years later, the transition is yet to begin, and we are confronted instead with a TLMP amendment that would continue to log the old-growth forest indefinitely. Four hundred fifty-million board feet of old growth would be cut over the next 15 years, part of up to 800 million board feet by century’s end. That’s in addition to the cumulative loss of forest land during past decades.

To make this so-called transition work the Forest Service plans to cut second growth as soon as it reaches a marginally economic size, even if it is in areas set aside for wildlife in the agency’s Tongass Conservation Strategy, such as riparian management areas, beach fringe and old-growth reserves. This would come mainly from low-elevation, high-productivity sites that were clearcut in the 1950’s-1970’s. This forecloses regrowth toward an old-growth condition, the needed priority.

 Sitka Black-tailed Deer in Beach Fringe (Photo Archipelagan)

Sitka Black-tailed Deer in Beach Fringe (Photo Archipelagan)

Further, the Conservation Strategy, adopted in the 1997 TLMP, is inadequate to its purpose of protecting the viability of Tongass wildlife populations. Our February TLMP Amendment comments urged the agency to strengthen the strategy, but it refused to conduct a review. This issue is a big part of our September objection document, in addition to our other objections on misguided economics and climate change.

An entirely different kind of forest transition is needed, to a different kind of economy for the few small communities that are affected, not to just another kind of logging. Unfortunately, the process was rigged. USDA Secretary Vilsack dictated the kind of transition the Forest Service is pursuing, leaving no room to consider a better approach. The agency then hand-picked a Tongass Advisory Committee, including the three weakest “conservationists” it could possibly find, to provide the needed smoke screen.

We won’t give up, we aim to prevail, and our objection letter to the Forest Service is an important step.

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