"Logging halted on the Tongass" was the front-page headline on April 5 above the fold, so you could read it walking by a newsstand or through the glass in the vending machine. It was a good headline, the type that grabs your attention, but it didn't accurately tell the story.
Judge Singleton's decision halted logging only in roadless areas. The decision had nothing to do with the Roadless-area Conservation Rule; it was the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act the Forest Service chose to ignore in this instance. The Forest Service did not comply with those acts in developing its management plan by not including new roadless areas for wilderness consideration. That choice went against the law and overwhelming public support for protection of roadless areas.
The timber industry and the Bush administration are effective at calling the Roadless-area Conservation Rule a last-minute mandate. The truth is, it is the Forest Service's rule, it wrote it; it held 600 public meetings over two years and collected 1.6 million comments, of which over 95 percent were in favor of the rule. Those who commented here in Alaska were in favor of the rule 6-to-1. So why did the Forest Service continue to lay out sales in roadless areas? To say that the idea that roadless areas would be off-limits to logging snuck-up on the Forest Service would be like saying the Apollo moon launch snuck-up on NASA.
There are 4,650 miles of road on the Tongass and 10 billion board feet of timber readily available for cutting on the road system. Seventy million board feet of this timber is under contract. These areas could be cut today. For the past five years the timber industry has averaged 47 million board feet per year from competitively bid timber sales. The Forest Service did not release these figures until after the story ran. Knowing that kind of takes the wind out of the "Logging halted" headline. The only real stoppage was the AFA screaming, "Stop the presses, we have a headline!"
The Bush administration is going to release its decision on whether to support the Roadless-area Conservation Rule on May 4, and it doesn't look good for the 95 percent who commented in favor of the rule. The reason Judge Singleton's decision is so important is that if the Roadless Rule falls, it is the only thing protecting many of the places we love on the Tongass.
If the injunction holds up under the pressure that is now being applied by the governor, the timber industry, and Sens. Stevens and Murkowski, it will be easy to scapegoat the environmental community. I hope people will look past the headlines.
What the environmental community does all that we can do is hold the Forest Service accountable when it does not follow its own rules, which protect our drinking water, fishing, hunting and wildlife habitat and those special places we all like to go. It is a simple fact that when the Forest Service follows its own rules it maintains our quality of life. The rules exist to protect us. The rules that govern where and how much timber can be extracted are based on science and good judgment. We hold the Forest Service to their rules to uphold the integrity of the forest to sustain future generations who want clean drinking water, fertile fishing and hunting grounds and all the other things many of us take for granted in Alaska right now.
There is only 4 percent of original wilderness left in the country, a lot of that is in our National Forests, thanks to that "extreme environmentalist" Teddy Roosevelt. Wilderness designation is not taking something away. It is conserving what we cherish for future generations of Americans for our children and our grandchildren. When a road is carved through a wilderness area, it destroys that area as wildlife habitat and endangers salmon streams and drinking water quality. Congress can take away wilderness designation, but the effect of a road into a wilderness area is everlasting.
Kevin T. Myers is a Juneau representative of the Sierra Club.