Tongass Forest Under Seige

The Tongass National Forest, located in southeast Alaska, covers 16.7 million acres and is one the last virgin coastal rain forests still relatively untouched by industry. That’s over twice the size of, say, Connecticut. These forests are currently under siege by the timber industry, and an influx of direct action activists is needed to save them.

Thirty percent of the intact coastal temperate rainforest in the WORLD is right here in Southeast Alaska in the Tongass National Forest. Much of the Tongass is rock, ice and muskeg; the ”productive” forest — sitka spruce, western hemlock and yellow cedar — is only one third of that 16.7 million acres. Over half of the high volume old-growth has already been removed; by contrast only 10% of the low volume timber has been removed.

This year marks the centennial anniversary of the Tongass. The National Forest Service’s “celebration” consist of special publications, talks, presentations, and other forms of congratulatory fanfare. But while the confetti settles, the timber industry is just getting started.

In 1980, Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act. This protected 5.4 million acres of the Tongass, most of it conveniently rock and ice. Right now the rest of the Tongass is under a Resource and Land Management Plan (TLMP) which was originally released in 1997. This plan utterly fails to protect 44 wild and scenic watersheds, which are believed to contain half of the salmon-producing streams in the Tongass. It also leaves open to development 18 high value community use areas. Forty percent of the families in the area get a quarter of their yearly food supply off the land in these community use zones and most are outraged by their potential destruction. The plan also fails to protect marbled murrelets, Alexander wolves and Queen Charlotte goshawks, among other species.

In 1997 the TLMP release was immediately met with thirty-three separate appeals from various environmental organizations, commercial fishers, and individuals living in the Tongass area who depend on it for their inspiration and livelihoods. The appeals resulted in a new TLMP released in 1999. This revised TLMP comprehensively protected those 44 wild scenic watersheds as well as the 18 high value community use areas. So comprehensively in fact, that the tinder companies were forced to challenge the 1999 TLMP and succeeded in reinstituting the original 1997 version in January of 2003.

Currently, the Allowable Sale Quantity stands at 267 million board feet yearly. In 2002, the Forest Service managed to sell only 180 million board sq. feet of Tongass wood. This is despite having prepared for the sales of the full 267 million. It seems that the Feds are desperately pushing Tongass timber on a world market which does not even want or need it.

Southeast Alaska is a land where the mountains jut right out of the ocean and where grizzly bears wander around downtown. The Tongass is home to the largest convention of bald eagles in the world. Surprising to some, the average winter temperature is just above freezing and driving your gas-powered automobile from town to town isn’t even an option. The main public transportation is the ferry.

The largest protected wilderness complex in the world (27 million acres, the Glacier Bay, Wrangell-St.Elias, Kluane UNESCO World Heritage area) is in my back yard. There is no place as wild as this in the lower 48. You may think that the difference between 1 million acres and 27 million acres of wilderness is negligible, but you would just be advertising the fact that you have never breathed deeply of the air coming off of a glacier which extends into wild land further than you can really comprehend.

The Tongass is threatened. While there are many mainstream enviros working hard for “safer legislation,” there is no EARTH FIRST! movement to get in the way. No crusty ferals lurking in the woods with fire in their eyes, scheming to save these trees and forests, watersheds and wild wolves, brown bears and goshawks. Where are the critters that have devoted their lives to ending the age where Homo Sapiens rape and plunder the natural world in the name of “progress?”

We need you to be here. You need to be here. What are you waiting for?