Forest Service opens 3.4M acres of Tongass Forest to logging
WASHINGTON (AP) ” More than 3 million acres in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest would be opened to logging and road building under a Bush administration decision that supporters believe will revive Alaska’s timber industry but environmentalists fear will devastate the forest.
The Bush administration Friday released a management plan for the forest, the largest in the country at nearly 17 million acres. The plan would leave about 3.4 million acres open to logging and other development, including about 2.4 million acres that are now remote and roadless. About 663,000 acres are in areas considered most valuable for timber production.
Alaska Regional Forester Denny Bschor, who approved the new Tongass management plan, said its goals are to sustain the diversity and health of the forest, provide livelihoods and subsistence for Alaska residents and ensure a source of recreation and solitude for forest visitors.
“There may be disappointment that the (allowable timber sales) hasn’t increased or diminished, depending on your viewpoint,” Bschor said in a statement. “What is significant in the amended plan however, is our commitment to the state of Alaska to provide an economic timber sale program which will allow the current industry to stabilize, and for an integrated timber industry to become established.”
Environmentalists said the plan continues a Bush policy of catering to the timber industry.
“The new plan suffers from the same central problem as the old plan. It leaves 2.4 million acres of wild, roadless backcountry areas open to clear cutting and new logging roads,” said Tom Waldo, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice.
The new plan stems from a series of lawsuits filed by environmental groups in 2003 that have since shifted the Forest Service’s timber sale program away from roadless areas to land that can be reached by roads that meander for 3,700 miles through the southeast Alaska forest.
In 2005, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2003 plan on grounds that the Forest Service had mistakenly doubled the volume of timber needed to supply local sawmills and failed to consider better protections for roadless areas.
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