On Jan. 12, 2001, culminating years of discussion and unprecedented public input, the U.S. Forest Service issued the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, protecting the last 60 million acres of wild roadless areas in our national forests, including 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest, from most logging and road building.
Last summer, Southeast Alaskans were part of a national effort to rally public support for the proposed Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Your comments were part of the largest public participation process in federal rule-making history - 1,562,000 Americans said they wanted prohibitions on road building and logging in America's last few remaining roadless areas. In the same process, 38,000 Americans said they did not want to see additional protections for roadless areas. But today, in a staggering display of disregard for public process, the "George Bush" Forest Service has announced a new public process designed to address the concerns of the 38,000 while ignoring the comments of those 1,562,000 Americans.
What the Forest Service proposes in this new process (repeatedly) is a return to the "local forest planning process." The "local forest planning process" is the process we have been using that resulted in the Forest Service building 386,000 miles of road that they cannot maintain (4,650 MILES on the Tongass) with an $8 billion maintenance backlog. The "local forest planning process" is the one that loses hundreds of millions of dollars annually on national forest timber sales ($31 million loss on the Tongass).
It's the "local forest planning process" that has resulted in 70 percent of the biggest and best trees and habitat on the Tongass National Forest being destroyed. This is the "business as usual" approach they would like to return to protect roadless areas.
Meanwhile, at the same time that Mr. Bush's Forest Service is touting the local planning process as the best way to manage roadless areas, they are simultaneously proposing changes to the law that governs that process that would restrict public participation, take out provisions that ensure healthy fish and animal populations, weaken protections for endangered species, and lessen scientific review. This would be hilarious if the stakes weren't so high.
Recent polls say that over three-quarters of Americans support protecting roadless areas. A solid 62 percent of Republicans, in a return to the conservation roots of that party, think that we have logged enough roadless areas and maybe we might want to save a few trees for the grandkids. In fact, the popularity of the rule makes it hard for George Bush to go head on against. That's why we are getting these absurd, "back door" proposals from the Forest Service to protect roadless areas by going back to doing exactly what we were doing before the American people demanded protection for roadless areas.
The timber industry has already had more than its fair share of the Tongass. For too long the Tongass was managed exclusively for timber production at the expense of hunters, fishers, families and a host of other "users."
Today, Southeast's economy is increasingly dependent upon pristine forests and viable salmon habitat. Many Alaskans depend upon subsistence to feed their families and fishing to pay their bills. Southeast's fishing economy is dependent upon healthy forests: No forest, no salmon. Southeast's growing visitor economy is also dependent upon a wild environment. People don't come here to see clearcuts!
The Forest Service wants to hear from you (again). Just exactly which part of the first clear message from the public they didn't understand, I don't know, but I guess we'll have to keep doing this over and over again until they get it right. Please take the time to write a brief letter in support of the Roadless Rule as it is currently written. Make sure that you include your own personal stories about the Tongass and how it enriches your life or business. Most important is that you at least write a short note to the Forest Service asking them to implement the rule as it was written into the Federal Register on Jan. 12. You can send your letters, by Sept. 10, to: USFS Chief Dale Bosworth, USDA Forest Service - CAT, Attn: Roadless APRN Comments, P.O. Box 221090, Salt Lake City, Utah 84122,
Pat Veesart is executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society.