A coalition of environmental groups issued a report Wednesday that pronounced the Tongass National Forest and 11 other federal forests as "endangered" due to logging, drilling and mining.
The report released by the National Forest Protection Alliance, based in Missoula, Mont., criticizes the Bush administration for increasing the amount of logging in the national forests even though the economic worth of the federal timber sale program is marginal at the national level.
The national forests supply only about 2 percent of U.S. wood consumption, said John Talberth, an economist based in Oakland, Calif., who co-wrote the report's analysis of federal timber economics.
Despite the attempts to increase logging on federal land, "the logging program will never be a serious player in U.S. timber markets," Talberth said.
In contrast, the Tongass National Forest is one of the only suppliers for the four remaining sawmills in Southeast Alaska.
"The communities in those regions are dependent on the national forest to earn their living," said Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association.
The alliance claims the Tongass is endangered on the basis of threats from logging to wildlife, use of taxpayer money to build expensive roads and mine development that could affect water quality.
Tongass public affairs officer Kent Cummins responded Wednesday by saying that the report's finding are ludicrous.
"Stating that the Tongass is endangered is flat out ridiculous," Cummins said. He said 7 percent of the forest's old-growth timber has been harvested since 1954.
"The report fails to mention that the Tongass has nearly 6 million acres of some of the most pristine, untouched wilderness ever designated," Cummins said.
The Alaska Forest Association wants the Forest Service to increase sales on the Tongass to keep the sawmills and other businesses viable with a stable supply of wood.
In response to a recent lawsuit, the Forest Service is in the midst of revising its timber demand projections for the Tongass.
At present, the Forest Service plans 50 timber sales in designated roadless areas in the Tongass over the next decade. Nationally, logging on national forests has increased by about 300 million board feet since 2002, said Jake Kreilick, the alliance's Endangered Forest Project coordinator.
Alliance members said Wednesday in a press conference that they are now going to work with companies and U.S. consumers to convince them to stop buying wood from the national forests.
Given (the political) trends, consumers are emerging as important players," said Jeanette Russell, who works for the National Forest Protection Alliance.
Greenpeace, a member of the alliance, has sought out commitments with musical instrument manufacturers like Gibson Guitars and Walden Guitars to purchase Sitka Spruce only from forests that have received a seal of approval from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Sitka spruce is a valuable product for guitar manufacturers because of its high density.
The Tongass does not qualify for the FSC label because of its clear-cutting practices. Still, Greenpeace has initiated discussions with Native corporations in Southeast Alaska to learn whether they would be interested in seeking certification, said Larry Edwards, a Sitka-based campaigner for Greenpeace.