The Forest Service is soon to make big decisions about the fate of the Tongass National Forest that surrounds us. In May the Forest Service began a 90-day public comment period seeking advice on how to manage the remaining wildlands in the Tongass. Now is the time for Alaskans to let their voices be heard.
In its draft proposal the Forest Service recommended that none of the 9.6 million acres of eligible wildlands on the Tongass be granted lasting protection. The Forest Service wants to leave community use areas like Tenakee Inlet, Ushk Bay near Sitka, Port Houghton between Juneau and Petersburg, East Kuiu Island near Kake, and Cleveland Peninsula north of Ketchikan open to logging despite strong support for permanently safeguarding them. Indeed, the Forest Service says it plans to log in these and all other major unprotected watersheds in the next 10 years.
Logging and road building in pristine areas cause erosion that hurts wild salmon and trout. It also virtually eliminates deer habitat because, 15-20 years after cutting, dense thickets of second-growth trees will shade out the food and shelter that deer need to survive, especially in winter.
Over the past 50 years, over 1 million acres of the biggest and best trees have been systematically clearcut in Southeast Alaska. Indeed, over 70 percent of the trees most important for fish and wildlife have already been logged.
The Tongass already has more than 4,600 miles of logging roads. That's enough road to drive from Prince Rupert to Orlando, Florida and then up to New York City. Is it any wonder the Forest Service can't afford to maintain the roads it already has? The Forest Service shouldn't be building more roads at taxpayer expense and invading controversial areas when it says it has more than 8.9 billion board feet of timber available to log on its existing road system.
Today, Tongass logging often targets valuable cedar trees that are exported in the round without producing virtually any Alaskan jobs. Every Tongass tree cut is highly subsidized, even though logging may take money away from other businesses or food out of the mouths of people who have hunted and fished in an area for decades or centuries. Our wildlands give us the freedom to hunt, fish, and recreate alone in God's country and make us different from the rest of the world. We lose those things too when we ship our forests to Japan.
The Forest Service is giving Alaskans a clear choice. You can get involved in safeguarding the community use areas important to you for hunting, fishing, recreating, tourism, and your children's future. Or you can consent to the agency's efforts to push timber sales into them within the next 10 years.
The future of the Tongass is in your hands. Please let the Forest Service know what you think. For more information contact SEACC at www.seacc.org.
Wayne Weihing of Ketchikan is president of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.