The Forest Service's announcement that there would be no further wilderness designated in the Tongass National Forest is an affront to the public. About 175,000 people submitted written comments encouraging the Forest Service to designate more wilderness areas in the Tongass. Eighty-six percent of the public who testified at FS public hearings in Southeast Alaska were in favor of additional wilderness designations. The local media carried stories of the public sentiment in favor of more wildlands. To add insult to injury, our Alaskan delegate has attached riders to the recently passed Appropriations Bill that eliminate administrative appeal to the FS decision on the Wilderness Plan.
The Forest Service contends the economy cannot afford more wilderness designations. The qualification for a wilderness area is that it exhibit characteristics. Those qualities by themselves have value. My husband and I are sport-fishing guides and our economy is based on a pristine, wild environment. If the Forest Service were truly concerned about the economy of the area, they would have listened to the residents of the communities of Southeast.
I just returned from Washington, D.C., where I encouraged legislators to support HR 979, the Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act. This bill would give protection to many areas in the Tongass that are open for "resource extraction," or more simply stated, massive clear cutting. We need this bill to protect some of our remaining old growth forest for the benefit of the other segments of the economy in addition to the timber industry. Additionally this bill is critical for the continued health of wildlife and the traditional sport and subsistence activities that are a major part of life in SE Alaska.
Joan M. McBeen