For Immediate Release, September 24, 2020

Contact:

Corey Himrod, Alaska Wilderness League, (202) 266-0426, corey@alaskawild.org
Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 779-4894, rspivak@biologicaldiversity.org
Gwen Dobbs, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 329-9295, gdobbs@defenders.org
Katherine Quaid, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), (541) 325-1058, katherine@wecaninternational.org
Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club, (804) 519-8449, virginia.cramer@sierraclub.org
Rebecca Bowe, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2093, rbowe@earthjustice.org
Rebecca Sentner, Audubon Alaska, (907) 276-7034, rebecca.sentner@audubon.org
Tim Woody, The Wilderness Society, (903) 223-2443, tim_woody@tws.org
Meredith Trainor, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, (907) 957-8347, meredith@seacc.org

U.S. Forest Service Plan Guts Protections, Allows Clearcut Logging of Old-growth Trees in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Forest Service announced a final plan today to eliminate roadless-rule protections in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, opening vast swaths of irreplaceable old-growth temperate rainforest to clearcut logging.

The final environmental impact statement targets the federal safeguard that restricts logging and road-building in designated wild areas. For two decades the rule has protected old-growth forests and critical wildlife habitat in Alaska and across the country. Protecting these trees, which are champions at absorbing carbon, has helped make the Tongass a buffer against climate change.

The release of the final environmental impact statement is a near-final step in the rulemaking process. In response, a broad coalition of organizations dedicated to protecting the Tongass issued the following statement:

“This plan to roll back the Roadless Rule will open the gates to clearcutting countless century-old trees, with irreversible ecological consequences. The Tongass is not only America’s largest national forest and a treasured public lands area, but it’s sometimes called ‘America’s Climate Forest.’ This temperate rainforest plays a critical role in fighting climate change by retaining vast stores of carbon in its old-growth trees.

“The Tongass is crucial for Indigenous communities who rely on hunting, fishing and wild harvest as a matter of survival. Roadless areas are important for imperiled wildlife like the Alexander Archipelago wolf, Queen Charlotte goshawk and marten, among others. We oppose any weakening of the roadless rule in the Tongass and will challenge the lifting of restrictions against logging at every turn.”

Many people have raised concerns that rolling back the roadless rule in the Tongass will harm their lives and work. Listen to their voices in these videos, which are available for publication:

Background
Since time immemorial the Tongass National Forest has been the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples.

The roadless rule is one of the most popular conservation measures of the last century. The Forest Service received 250,000 comments in response to its proposal to gut the rule, and 96% of those comments voiced support for keeping roadless protections intact. Nevertheless in October 2019 the Forest Service released its plan to roll back the roadless rule in Alaska, opening new areas of the Tongass to clearcutting at the behest of timber corporations.

The Tongass provides vital habitat for eagles, bears, wolves, salmon and countless other species. Alaska Native people rely upon the Tongass’s lands and waters for culture, subsistence lifestyles and livelihoods.

Visitors from around the world travel to the Tongass for world-class recreation, hunting and sport and commercial fishing. The watersheds of the Tongass produce 80% of salmon in Southeast Alaska, and a critical share of the West Coast commercial salmon fishery. In recent years tourism and seafood-related jobs have accounted for 26% of employment and generated an annual $1 billion economic benefit. That’s a far greater contribution than the less than 1% of employment generated by the timber industry.

Moving to repeal roadless protections is the third federal government action this month attacking old-growth trees of the Tongass National Forest. The Forest Service issued a draft proposal to chainsaw 5,000 acres of old growth forest for the South Revilla timber project on Sept. 4. A week later the agency proposed another 3,000 acres of old-growth liquidation on heavily logged Prince of Wales Island as part of the Twin Mountain II timber project.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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