by Gabe Scott
A nail is being driven in the coffin on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Is it a coffin for the old-growth logging industry; or for Tongass wolves, deer and salmon? It is up to you to decide.
Recent announcements by the Obama administration offer glimmers of hope. Secretary Vilsack’s July 3, 2013 announcement stated they’ve decided to speed the transition away from old-growth logging. This is welcome news.
But the rhetoric doesn’t match actions on the ground. The Forest Service recently decided to log the Big Thorne timber sale. Logging over 6,000 acres of ancient forest on Prince of Wales Island, Big Thorne would be the biggest, most destructive Forest Service sale in a generation.
Ironically, Big Thorne is dubbed a “stewardship” project. That’s nonsense.
Environmentally, Big Thorne would demolish critical old-growth habitat. Prince of Wales Island has already been logged within an inch of its life. Logging the big tree stands that remain spells disaster. David Person, the world’s foremost expert of Alexander Archipelago wolves, writes that Big Thorne would likely cause “the collapse of a sustainable and resilient predator- prey ecological community.”
Second-growth logging isn’t any solution either. Unlike the Pacific Northwest, Alaska’s forests aren’t suited to farming. The second-growth that exists is too small to log. Mills can’t use them. And unlike the Pacific Northwest, where fire-suppression provides an environmental rationale for second-growth thinning, Tongass forests will be most productive by leaving them alone.
The problem as well as the solution is seen in the vast network of degrading logging roads on Prince of Wales. A generation of building new roads, while neglecting the old ones, has created a maintenance backlog of tens of millions of dollars. Old roads dump sediment into streams. Old culverts block fish passage.
Logging is only a minor part of the economy; salmon are a huge part. So it makes sense to take some of the $200,000-per-job subsidy of the Big Thorne sale, and spend it instead restoring streams and fixing roads.
Cascadia, with our close allies at Greenpeace, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, and the Center for Biological Diversity, have appealed the Big Thorne sale. But lawsuits are a weak tool compared with grassroots pressure.
That’s where you come in. I encourage all Cascadians to sign the following petition (and share it with your friends)!