The Attempted Elimination of the Roadless Rule on the Tongass

David Beebe writes: Most of the last of the large tree rainforests of Amazonia are falling and/or on fire. Most of the last of the large tree rainforests of Southeast Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago are also long gone – permanently gone.

The Roadless Rule and all the remnant wild watersheds it protects are all we have left on the islands of the Tongass National Forest. We can never personally know the full extent of what, and for what, we have lost forever. We can never fully know where and how far the dominoes of irreparable harm such “management” has set in motion across the planet.

If the agency and its industry cynically hiding behind Smokey the Bear and Woodsy Owl; and,

If the Southeast Alaska Native Regional and Tribal Corporations hiding behind their stumps of ancestral cultural values; and,

If all the salaried nonprofit collaborationists hiding behind “conservation” “restoration” and “cultural” values; and,

If Alaska’s elected representatives in Washington DC and Alaska’s Governor all hiding behind a known, tried and failed social, environmental and economic policy —

If all these financially and ethically conflicted agents and cheerleaders of neoliberal colonial plantation “forest management” — “get their way,” a terrible injustice and grandest of thefts of the planet and its future generations will have also been allowed.

Tonka Timber Sale clearcuts, Tongass National Forest( Lindenberg Peninsula, Kupreanof Island – Southeast Alaska 7/12/2019)

Exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule would be a mistake

The following piece, written by John Schoen and Matt Kirchhoff, appeared recently in the Anchorage Daily News. Both Schoen and Kirchhoff are retired wildlife ecologists living in Anchorage. They both have research experience working on the Tongass and collectively have more than 70 years of wildlife research and conservation work in Alaska.

The Trump and Dunleavy administrations’ plan to exempt Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the national Roadless Rule is ecologically and economically unwise. The Tongass is our nation’s largest national forest and contains the greatest remaining area of old-growth temperate rain-forest in North America. The Tongass provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife, including all five species of salmon, deer, bear and other species uniquely adapted to this rainforest ecosystem, such as the Alexander Archipelago Wolf, the Queen Charlotte Goshawk, the Prince of Wales Flying Squirrel, the Marbled Murrelet, and the Prince of Wales Spruce Grouse. Not only does the Tongass support vibrant tourism and fishing industries as well as local subsistence use of fish and wildlife, it also stores more carbon than any other national forest, and plays an important role in moderating climate change.

Supporters of the timber industry point to the small percentage of land area logged as an indicator of the impact. This is misleading, because only one-third of the Tongass supports forests of potential commercial value, and only a small fraction of that is economically valuable. The timber industry has always targeted (high-graded) the largest and oldest trees, but those large-tree old-growth stands have always been rare on the Tongass. An analogy would be fishermen catching only a small percent-age of all the salmon, but catching nearly all the king salmon (the least abundant but most valuable species). Seven decades of high-grading has dramatically depleted the Tongass Forest’s largest (4-10 feet in diameter) old-growth trees. And those rare, old-growth stands provide some of the most valuable fish and wildlife habitats on the Tongass. If the new Prince of Wales timber sale moves forward and the Roadless Rule protections are removed, most of the remaining large-tree forest stands will be clear-cut and their habitat values for wildlife and salmon will be permanently lost. The ecological structure of old-growth forests are not renewable on 100-year timber harvest schedules.

There is strong scientific consensus on the ecological importance and rarity of old-growth forests. In 2003, former Forest Service chiefs Jack Ward Thomas and Mike Dombeck urged that “…harvest of old growth from the national forests should come to an end…” In 2015, seven scientific societies, representing a combined membership of over 30,000 scientists and natural resource professionals, sent a joint letter to Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack requesting that the timber industry on the Tongass transition from old-growth logging to second-growth harvest as rapidly as possible. Today, the Tongass is the only national forest that still clear-cuts old growth. And it is past time to bring that practice to an end.

Exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule and further high-grading of the rarest, most valuable old growth will result in unsustainable forest management and risk significant impacts to fish and wildlife as well as jeopardize two of southeast Alaska’s significant economic drivers: fisheries and tourism. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Tongass Forest has lost $30 million on timber sales annually during the past two decades. For both ecological and economic reasons, this is why the Tongass should not be exempted from the Roadless Rule.

3 thoughts on “The Attempted Elimination of the Roadless Rule on the Tongass”

  1. “We need to have a conversation about which forests are most capable of sequestering carbon in the near term. And those are forests that are generally in the age range of 70 to 125 years — they are the ones that are going to add the most carbon in the coming decades. Unfortunately, 70 years, for many species, is the perfect size for the sawmill. So it is going to mean saying ,well, we’re going to not cut these. This has to apply to federal and state forests. In Connecticut, there is not a single acre of state forest that is not subject to being cut.”
    (William Moomaw lead author of 5 IPCC reports in recent Yale Environment 360 interview)

    • Thanks for posting this quote and link which demonstrates the tragic social, cultural, environmental, and economic consequences of ANCSA, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

      What your link reveals is the Native predicament of ANCSA’s Machiavellian methodology. By corporatizing Native tribal society, the entire landscapes surrounding Native communities were ransacked just as any “unfriendly” corporate takeover of a financially struggling competitor gets stripped of its assets — or in this case, just left to die a slow death in the jaws of the corporate trap.

      The tragic aftermath of ANCSA’s legacy has heightened the acute dependence of Native subsistence activities on the Tongass remnants of viable habitat capable of sustaining huntable populations of Sitka blacktail deer.

      At 55-58 degrees North latititude, the shortness of daylight and the severity of weather creates hazards and logistical impediments to accessing off-island subsistence needs. Scores of Native and nonnative hunters have died trying.

      This is what makes the “…rare….unity…” of tribes suddenly and desperately apparent at the prospect of eliminating the Roadless Rule.

      Every single acre of the tens of thousands of acres of devastation surrounding Native villages resulting in decimation or total elimination of once abundant wild salmon and deer habitat was readily approved by the state of Alaska.

      We who live here and depend on what little remains — we all shudder at what will happen if Roadless gets turned over to corporate predators in bed with Governor Dunleavy.


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