As of Monday (July 17) at midnight, the U.S. Forest Service closed its official public comment period on its draft Roadless Area Conservation Policy. Conservation groups delivered over 700,000 pro-roadless comments at the final press conference Monday in Salt Lake City. In all, estimates are that a record-breaking one million comments favoring a strong final roadless policy that includes the Tongass National Forest were delivered to the Forest Service during this comment period.
The Forest Service also broke all records by holding an unprecedented round of nearly 400 hearings on the draft plan all over the country including 17 hearings in Alaska (13 of which were in Southeast). Nationwide, comments favoring stronger wild forest protection outnumbered those opposing protection by nearly 3-1.
At the Alaska hearings, a whopping 62 percent of the people who spoke, spoke in favor of the roadless policy and for inclusion of the Tongass. In Southeast, 59 percent spoke in favor of including the Tongass. Nearly 75 percent of the people speaking at the hearings held in the four largest cities in Southeast - Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Petersburg - spoke in favor of including the Tongass. Clearly, there is local concern that current Forest Service policies and plans are not adequate to protect Alaska's forests.
A recent article in the Washington Post compared leaving the Tongass out of a national policy to preserve roadless areas to leaving the turkey out of Thanksgiving or leaving Louis Armstrong out of the Smithsonian collection of jazz recordings. The Tongass is an American treasure that Americans want to see preserved.
The people have spoken. I just hope that the president, the Forest Service and our elected representatives are listening.
Sierra Club/Alaska Rainforest Campaign
Alaska Conservation Alliance