Local and national conservation organizations are making a united effort to convince the U.S. Forest Service to do away with old-growth logging in the Tongass National Forest. The Forest Service is expected to make a determination on the five-year plan for the Tongass in the next month.
More than 70 members of the House of Representatives and dozens of conservation organizations — including the Sitka Conservation Society, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Audubon Society — signed on to two letters recently sent to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The letters call on Vilsack to reconsider the Big Thorne timber sale, which would allow over 6,000 acres of old-growth forest in the Tongass to be harvested, and to quickly transition the Tongass away from old-growth logging.
In 2010, the Forest Service proposed its “Transition Framework.” The plan sought to provide jobs and economic stability to Southeast Alaska by transitioning the region away from old-growth logging and toward second-growth. In July, just after the announcement of the Big Thorne timber sale, Vilsack announced an extension of that plan, which would use Forest Service resources to develop a plan for harvesting and marketing second-growth timber.
“This timber sale (Big Thorne) is clearly inconsistent with your plan to quickly transition out of old growth logging,” reads the letter from the House of Representatives. “With limited resources and staff, we believe the Forest Service should focus actions that support the current and future economy of Southeast Alaska.”
The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council submitted comments to the Forest Service during the review process of the Tongass five-year plan. Bob Claus, forest program director for SEACC, said the organization wants to see an amendment to the conservation portion of the Tongass plan that would speed up the transition away from old-growth logging.
“We’re concerned that the current plan doesn’t go far enough, but the approach is correct to use scientific data from biologists to manage habitat for creatures like bears, wolves and salmon,” Claus said. “We’re hoping that their decision leaves the conservation strategy essentially the same, with changes based in scientific analysis, and that it speeds up the transition from old-growth.”
Claus said the timber industry in Southeast shouldn’t mirror the past.
“The timber industry should be focused on niche markets. People should still be able to work in the forest, but we want to get maximum value added for every product that comes from the forest,” Claus said. “The idea is that we want the transition to healthy stable economy to happen now and we think that a significant amendment would do that.”