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I was perplexed by last week's reports on the latest USFS Record of Decision on the Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP). All the media coverage I encountered stressed "no new wilderness areas," but neglected a more immediate result of the action. Review of possible wilderness areas in the Tongass was the original purpose of the supplemental environmental impact statement. However, the decision cast in stone through the federal appropriation process does more than block designation of new wilderness areas. It actually takes away protection from lands that the Forest Service considered worthy of safeguards in the 1999 version of TLMP. This aspect of the decision is far more important to me than "no new wilderness" and I don't understand why it has not been in the news.
I live in Tenakee Inlet, a long fjord with perpendicular bays intersecting the south shore. Some watersheds, like Corner Bay, have been pretty well stripped clear of timber. Two valleys, Kadashan and Trap Bay, were protected by the Tongass Timber Reform Act of 1990. Three of the remaining watersheds - Seal Bay, Long Bay and Goose Flats - are still nearly intact. Local support for their protection goes back to the early 1970s. All three were included in the 1989 House version of the Tongass Timber Reform Act. All are vitally important to local subsistence and visitor use.
The 1997 TLMP exposed Seal Bay, Long Bay and Goose Flats to large-scale clearcutting, along with other critically important areas. In response to 33 administrative appeals the 1999 modified Record of Decision provided more conservative land use designations. Now the latest Record of Decision has jumped back in time to the 1997 plan, and Seal Bay, Long Bay, Goose Flats and other areas are back on the chopping block.
It's really difficult to keep up with the complicated and repetitive planning process that directs management of the Tongass, but the bottom line is pretty simple. The areas we depend on are either vulnerable to industrial strength clearcutting or they are not. Seal Bay, Long Bay and Goose Flats were in a reasonably safe status for a while, but now that is gone. Do you hunt, fish or recreate in Tenakee Inlet? Do you know the current designation of your special places? It's time to pay attention again.