It is imperative that the Roadless Planning Team for the U.S. Forest Service include all roadless areas of our National Forests, including those in the largest, the Tongass National Forest.
Delaying the decision on whether the Tongass will be given the same protection as other National Forests until 2004 makes no environmental or economic sense. This forest should not go the path of the salmon on the Snake River, which will be studied until the salmon are gone. This public forest has the most roadless acreage remaining and this is not because of the Forest Service's management.
At one time the USFS planned on harvesting 98.4 percent of the commercial timber of the Tongass National Forest under their so-called multiple use policy. Public lawsuits and environmental advocacy have been responsible for the changes that have occurred. It has been public litigation and not Forest Service management that has protected the Tongass National Forest until the present time. Leaving the Tongass out of the national policy only gives the Forest Service additional time to do what they have always tried to do, put resource extraction ahead of other uses. The Forest Service out-of-context quoting a clause of the Tongass Timber Reform Act to justify their policies is just another example of this. The ``seek to meet market demand'' clause is not a requirement, but a goal to be considered equally with all other uses of the forest.
Presently the Tongass National Forest has 4,650 miles of logging roads with another 500 planned. The logging road component of the timber sale program is the part that costs the taxpayers the most in subsidies. And that cost is huge. In 1997 (the last year we have numbers for) the cost was $33 million in net revenue loss from the Tongass timber sale program. The very document that seeks to exclude the Tongass has had to admit that it will cost the taxpayers $178 for every 1,000 board-feet of timber they plan to cut on the Tongass. This works out to a subsidy of $64,000 for every logger put to work clearcutting in Tongass roadless areas. The Forest Service is also front- loading the 10 year sale program so that more than two-thirds of the roadless area sales will be offered before the 2004 reassessment. This is in spite of the fact that there is enough timber available from already roaded areas to supply 100 million board feet a year for a century.
Visitors don't come to Southeast Alaska to see clearcuts. They come to hunt, fish, see wildlife and enjoy our natural surroundings. For every dollar produced by logging operations on our National Forests, recreation industries produce 38. Fragmenting habitat with roads at taxpayers' expense and clearcutting our roadless watersheds doesn't make economic sense. Local residents also enjoy and depend on our old growth forest for the same activities the tourists come here for. Maintaining the roadless areas of the Tongass in their current state insures that everyone will continue to enjoy these activities.
Leaving the Tongass out of the roadless policy is like leaving the Grand Canyon out of the National Park System.