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The recent action by U.S. District Judge James Singleton in response to an Alaska Loggers Association lawsuit has overturned the Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP), and this curious ruling is guaranteed to keep Southeast Alaska in legal turmoil for years.
TLMP was a public process which took 12 years of public involvement and countless hours on a citizen, federal and scientific level. For better or worse, the final TLMP of 1999 was like a life raft that both sides of the forest debate clung to, as the final answer to years of contentious conflict. The overturned position of TLMP has protected many watersheds throughout Southeast Alaska. These areas include Port Houghton, Cleveland Peninsula, Ushk Bay, East Kuiu, Castle River, and many other sensitive fish and wildlife habitats. These important and productive lands are depended upon by many communities throughout the region for subsistence, hunting, recreation and natural solitude. Wildlife found on most of these affected lands include, salmon streams, deer, wolves, black bears, grizzly bears in some areas, waterfowl, migratory birds, and every type of flora and fauna found throughout the archipelago. That these proven and publicly supported lands were suddenly cast adrift by some cockeyed courtroom decision is itself an unspeakable crime, both to the public and to the process itself.
TLMP was a complex document that sought to protect the best of the Tongass' unique wildlife areas, while maintaining sufficient volumes of standing trees to provide industry with enough timber. With the era of the pulp mills over, the Forest Service had an open door to encourage smaller, more sustainable localized timber businesses. The court also directed the Forest Service to study the possibility of including more wilderness, but there was no provision to actually create any. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of acres of wild lands are suddenly cast adrift, the process overturned, and a weird court-ordered anarchy prevails. It is safe to assume that the whole mess will return to court to be appealed. It is also taken for granted that the concerned public and the friends of the Tongass nationwide will leave no stone unturned to ensure that these priceless wildlands and the natural wildlife treasures that these lands contain, receive the protection they so richly deserve.