Posts Tagged ‘Tongass’

Oct03

Tongass Groundtruth Expedition: 2016

Photos by Jacob Ritley, Tongass Groundtruth Expedition, 2016. Thanks to LUSH Foundation for their generous support.

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Southeast Alaska's Alexander Archipelago is made up of thousands of islands large and small. Small boats and floatplanes are the dominant modes of transportation. 

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Old-growth clearcutting is ongoing this summer on the Big Thorne timber sale, Prince of Wales Island. 

a0014717Virgin old-growth forests are being mowed down on the Cleveland Peninsula, on privately-owned ANCSA (Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act) corporation land. 

a0014448Our Alaska legal director inspects old-growth spruce in a fresh clearcut, Big Thorne project on Prince of Wales Island. 

Return to the Tongass Expedition Report

Apr15

Lawsuit Challenges Alaska Road Project from Ketchikan to Shelter Cove

For Immediate Release, April 14, 2016
 
Contact:    
Larry Edwards, Greenpeace, (907) 747-7557, larry.edwards@greenpeace.org
Gabe Scott, Cascadia Wildlands, (907) 491-0856, gscott@cascwild.org
Dune Lankard, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) 952-5265, dlankard@biologicaldiversity.org
 
Lawsuit Challenges Road Project From Ketchikan to Shelter Cove
 
KETCHIKAN, Alaska  Five environmental groups sued the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today in the federal district court at Anchorage to force supplemental analysis on the environmental consequences of the Ketchikan-to-Shelter-Cove road project on Revillagigedo Island in southeastern Alaska. The project is out for bids, which are due today.
 
The lawsuit challenges the Forest Service's recent approval of a right-of-way easement for a one-mile segment of the road that would cross national forest land, and the Army Corps of Engineers' issuance of a wetland fill permit, which allows seven miles of road (including the national forest segment) to be built. The rest of the construction would be on state land.
 
The road construction would connect Ketchikan to about 53 miles of existing logging roads in the Saddle Lakes area. That region already has a very high road density of nearly two miles of road per square mile; local wildlife populations are already stressed from about 14,000 acres of clearcut logging over the past two decades.
 
"At issue is the connection of Ketchikan to the presently isolated area beyond George Inlet, which has an existing high density of logging roads," said Larry Edwards of Greenpeace. "Making road connections from communities to areas that have a high road density is known to pose a threat to the sustainability of populations of Alexander Archipelago wolves, marten and other sensitive wildlife species due to increased hunting and trapping pressure, including poaching."
 
The 7.3-mile, one-lane gravel road link would be built by the State of Alaska, which put it out for bids March 14. The expected cost is $19 million, and $21 million is budgeted. The construction would extend eastward from the existing White River Road, which now ends at Leask Creek. It would proceed to Salt Lagoon, at the head of George Inlet, and then northward. The north end would connect to an existing logging road that goes eastward to Shelter Cove, on Carroll Inlet.
 
"The federal agencies did not follow federal law to consider hunting and trapping pressure, wildlife disturbance and user conflicts that the road connection will cause," said Gabe Scott of Cascadia Wildlands. "It is important that the agencies go back to the drawing board to ensure that wildlife, hunters and recreational users are fully considered."
 
The suit has no effect on road access from Ketchikan to upper George Inlet or on the potential for a boat launch ramp and dock somewhere along the inlet's shore between the White River and Leask Creek.
 
"Plowing forward with this road connection before determining the consequences of doing so has the process entirely backward," said Dune Lankard, the Center for Biological Diversity's representative in Alaska. "This project is part of the logging industry's grand scheme to access old-growth forests that we're determined to protect."
 
The plaintiffs are the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Cascadia Wildlands, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity and The Boat Company. 
 
Plaintiffs are represented by Crag Law Center, of Portland, Ore.
Mar29

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Effort to Overturn Tongass National Forest Protections

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 29, 2016

CONTACTS

Gabe Scott | Cascadia Wildlands | gscott@cascwild.org | (907) 491-0856
Tom Waldo | Earthjustice | twaldo@earthjustice.org | (907) 500‐7123
Niel Lawrence | Natural Resources Defense Council | nlawrence@nrdc.org | (360) 534‐9900
Buck Lindekugel | Southeast Alaska Conservation Council | buck@seacc.org | (907) 586‐6942
Catalina Tresky | Defenders of Wildlife | ctresky@defenders.org | (202) 772‐0253
Virginia Cramer | Sierra Club | virginia.cramer@sierraclub.org | (804) 519‐8449

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Effort to Overturn Tongass National Forest Protections

Court leaves rules in place that protect Tongass rainforest
wildlands from damaging logging, road construction

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear a last‐ditch effort by the State of Alaska to exempt America’s largest national forest from a national rule protecting undeveloped, road‐free national forest areas from logging and road construction. The State sought to overturn a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that kept the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in effect in the vast Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The Ninth Circuit agreed with a federal District Court in Alaska that the Bush administration improperly exempted the Tongass from that landmark conservation measure.

“The Tongass’ roadless rainforests are a national treasure, and the last, best intact wildlands in our bioregion,” said Gabriel Scott, Alaska legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “We are pleased with the court’s decision and the recognition that it is a privilege, not a burden, to conserve these national treasures for future generations.”

A coalition including the Organized Village of Kake (a federally recognized Alaska Native tribe), tourism businesses, and conservationists joined the federal government in urging the Supreme Court to leave the lower court rulings intact.

“Today’s court order is great news for Southeast Alaska and for all those who visit this spectacular place,” said Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo. “The remaining wild and undeveloped parts of the Tongass are important wildlife habitat and vital to local residents for hunting, fishing, recreation, and tourism, the driving forces of the local economy. The Supreme Court’s decision means that America’s biggest national forest—the Tongass—will continue to benefit from a common‐sense rule that applies nationwide.”

“It feels terrific to put this case to bed once and for all,” added Niel Lawrence, senior attorney and Alaska Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Punching clearcuts and logging roads into America’s last great rainforest wildland produced nothing but controversy, conflict, and uncertainty. The region can now move ahead on a path that benefits from and sustains the fabulous natural values that attract people to the Tongass. And all Americans can celebrate, knowing that we’ll pass on the crown jewel of national forests to future generations as wild and wonderful as it is today.”

“Southeast Alaska has moved on,” said Buck Lindekugel, Grassroots Attorney for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “Clearcutting old‐growth forests in the remote wildlands of our region, with expensive new logging roads no one can afford to maintain, is a thing of the past. We are pleased to see the Supreme Court put this issue to rest and call on the State of Alaska to do the same.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision today is a victory for wildlife in the Tongass National Forest, the state of Alaska, the region and the nation,” said Peter Nelson, senior policy advisor for federal lands for Defenders of Wildlife. “The Roadless Rule protects the wildlands that form the heart of America’s largest national forest within the most expansive temperate rainforest in the world. Future generations will now have the opportunity to experience the majesty of this ecosystem and the salmon, bears, wolves, birds and the myriad wildlife that depend on it.”

“The Roadless Rule protects our intact ancient forests that salmon, bears, and wolves depend upon. Alaska’s temperate rainforest is a treasure and today’s decision will help keep the Tongass protected from more logging and destruction,” said Marc Fink, Senior Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We're pleased to see the Roadless Rule upheld again. Over the past decade we’ve seen that the rule works. It has protected millions of acres of forests across the country, ensuring that both wildlife and American families have space to live and explore. In the face of a rapidly changing climate, protecting forests like the Tongass is even more important," said Alli Harvey, with the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign in Alaska. "It's common sense to protect this wild national icon for future generations to enjoy."

Background

The so‐called “Roadless Rule” was designed to protect “large, relatively undisturbed landscapes” in national forests from logging roads and clear‐cuts, while allowing other economic development — including hydropower projects, transmission lines, tourism, federally‐financed public roads, and even mining — to continue.

Today’s ruling is good news for the many residents of the region and local businesses who use and depend on the Tongass’ outstanding natural values, as well as visitors who come to see America’s last great rainforest, teeming with fish and wildlife that thrive in its undeveloped roadless areas. Little practical change is expected, however, since even when the Bush‐era exemption was in effect, cost and controversy kept almost all logging out of roadless areas. And last year, a federal advisory committee including representatives of the timber industry and the State formally and unanimously recommended against further logging of those wildlands.

The 17 million‐acre Tongass spans 500 miles of coastal Southeast Alaska, encompassing alpine meadows, deep fjords, calving glaciers, dense old‐growth rainforest, and over 1,000 islands and islets. After much debate and hundreds of thousands of comments, in 2001, the Agriculture Department decided that the Roadless Rule should apply to the Tongass but included special measures to blunt the impact of the rule on Alaska’s timber industry. Not applying the rule, the department found, “would risk the loss of important roadless values” in the Tongass. When the Bush administration reversed course and tried to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, it relied on factual findings at odds with those that justified its original decision and ignored the economic mitigation package for the Tongass. It asserted, without support, that the rule was not needed to protect Tongass wildlands and would cause widespread economic hardship.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling — and today’s decision by the Supreme Court not to review that ruling — reinforced the settled rule that federal agencies cannot arbitrarily change policies and ignore previous factual findings simply because a new president has taken office.

Attorneys from Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council represent the following groups in the case: Organized Village of Kake, The Boat Company, Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council,Natural Resources Defense Council, Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, Wrangell Resource Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and Cascadia Wildlands.

###

 

May05

Lawsuit Challenges Plan to Log Old-growth in Alaska

Mail Attachment-6 copy

Cascadia Wildlands yesterday filed suit against the Forest Service challenging approval of the Mitkof Island timber sale, a 4,117-acre old-growth logging project on the Tongass National Forest, near Petersburg in Southeast Alaska.

This lawsuit comes close on the heals of our challenge to the Big Thorne timber sale, another big old-growth sale that is currently on appeal before the 9th Circuit. These cases, along with a proposed revision to the overarching Forest Plan, represent a critical turning point on the Forest.

Long story short, the era of profitable old-growth logging is over, but the Forest Service and a handful of influential logging industry die-hards have been working overtime trying to prop it back up. Timber sales like this one on Mitkof Island are a last gasp of a dying industry.

The industry is dying—there is little doubt about that—but the question is whether it will leave enough healthy forest behind to sustain the wildlife and subsistence opportunities that rural Alaskans have traditionally enjoyed. The ecosystem is at a tipping point. 

Mitkof Island is a microcosm for the legacy of Tongass logging and habitat loss. Extensive areas have been clearcut on the National Forest, and (even worse) clearcutting on adjacent privately owned land.

One result is that the local deer population has crashed and is not recovering. Without enough old-growth providing shelter, the herd starves in winter. Petersburg residents no longer can go hunting out their back door. 

And, the result of that is that the State of Alaska is pursing ‘predator control,’ aiming to cull the wolf population by 80%. Without adequate habitat, the whole predator-prey system (of which humans are a part) comes crashing down.

In spite of huge controversy, on Mitkof the Forest Service determined that their logging project would have “no significant impact” on the environment, so conducted only a cursory environmental review. This is rare, and extraordinary. As the environmental consequences intesify, why would the agency be paying less attention to them?

Contrary to that claim, our lawsuit catalogues a number of significant impacts:

  • Loss of winter habitat for deer, further stressing the local population;

  • Harm to subsistence hunters, particularly low-income residents who cannot afford to travel to distant islands for deer;

  • Threats to the Alexander Archipelago wolf, which is currently being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, from loss of deer habitat and the likelihood of increased trapping;

  • Damage to the Queen Charlotte goshawk, a raptor that relies on old-growth forest.

As Rebecca Noblin, the Alaska director for our co-plaintiff Center for Biological Diversity, said, “I suppose that if you don’t look for problems then you’re not going to find them.”

The case was filed on behalf of Cascadia Wildlands, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, in federal district court in Anchorage. Cascadia’s staff attorneys are joined by the superhero lawyers at CRAG law center arguing the case. 

You can read a copy of the suit here.

Nov23

Thermal Damns and the Need for Angry, Active Anglers

Bob Ferris
 
Recently I posted something on Facebook about the peril faced by marine fish species in British Columbia due drift creekto record ocean temperatures (see Record North Pacific Temperatures Threatening B.C. Marine Species) and a new friend reposted it with a query about what she called “thermal damns.” It was a classic Freudian slip, but a really elegant one as these too-warm spots in rivers and streams (thermal dams) that block fish passage do act as physiological dams and they do start the process of damning us in Cascadia to a future likely bereft of ocean running salmonids—mainly salmon and steelhead.  
 
I talked about this issue recently with Mike Finley of the Turner Foundation and they are working with the Wild Salmon Center to preserve salmon runs in Kamchatka so that when all this fecal matter hits the air moving appliance, as well as the associated ocean acidification, that we have some refugia for salmon so that seed populations would be available post eastern Pacific salmon collapse for repopulation.  And while I thought this visionary, commendable and necessary, the idea that this thinking and action were necessary made me angry.  I am not sure that I am comfortable with just accepting that we are "thermally damned."
 
“EPA has an extensive track record of twisting the science to justify their actions,” Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), head of the House Science Committee in Science Insider
 
This mood of mine was not improved by the fossil-fuel-funded-fools in the House of Representatives that passed bills that would hamper the US Environmental Protection Agency's use of science on climate change.  (No, this is not a story in the Onion.)  Sure…why we would want the agency that looks after our well-being and that of our supporting ecosystems to be guided by the best science?  But it was a story that cruised through like a coal-ladened freight train while most of the US was focused on the latest celebrity break-up or cute cat video.  
 
fly fishing for assassins
I am not completely sure why, but this makes me think of that utterly silly scene in that absolutely silly, but visually pleasing movie, Salmon Fishing in Yemen, where the character played by Ewan McGregor suddenly spies a gun-wielding assassin and realizes that he holds an effective weapon—his Spey rod (see review where I got the photo here, if you feel you are missing something).  He, in that special moment of time, became a bug-flinging super hero.  For all of the reasons cited above we need some fly fishing super heroes now to help us with our thermal damning issues.  And this really begs the question: When are we as anglers going to understand that we need to be our own super heroes in this regard and that we are already holding an effective weapon in our hands through our collective political power?  
 
“If you got a politician who's running for office who thinks he is smarter than 98 percent of the world’s climate scientists—they’re crooks or they’re dumbasses”  Yvon Chouinard 
 
The good news is that anglers are starting to understand the need for action and long-time heroes like Patagonia founder and environmental funder Yvon Chouinard are turning up the volume on climate change.  But others are emerging also like those joining Yvon in the below video clip.  We very much need more of this.
 

At the close of the above video, there is a quote by Albert Einstein: Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.  Likewise those who enjoy fishing—particularly in Cascadia—need to grasp that angling is part casting and catching but also must involve protecting and enhancing habitats as well as stewardship of our political system.  Certainly this means taking action on pressing issues like the proposed Coos Bay LNG export terminal that will enable more greenhouse gas emissions in the US and China.  But it also means protecting important salmon habitat in Oregon's Elliott State Forest or Alaska's Tongass, taking a stand against suction dredge mining in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, questioning the use of forestry herbicides and making sure that any changes to how the O&C Lands in Oregon are managed protects rather than reduces stream-side buffers.  
 
So as you are pushing yourself back from the Thanksgiving table this coming week, take some time to be an angry, active angler.  Please get engaged in these issues and make sure to support those organizations that are carrying on this important fight.  Investing in all the gear out there will do little good unless you also invest in those actions and entities that help keep fish coming back to our rivers and streams.  
 
 
Aug26

WTF?!

By Gabe Scott
 
Cascadia Wildlands filed a lawsuit today to stop the U.S. Forest Service’s Big Thorne timber project on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska. Big Thorne is by far the largest logging project on the Tongass National Forest since the region’s two pulp mills closed about 20 years ago.
 
Mail Attachment-9
The lawsuit argues the federal government failed to heed research by Dr. David K. Person, a former Alaska Fish and Game wildlife biologist and foremost expert on Alexander Archipelago wolves. A formal declaration by Person, written after he retired and filed with Cascadia’s appeal of the project, says that Big Thorne would be the final straw to “break the back” of the ecosystem dynamic between the wolves, deer and hunters on the island.
 
We’ve joined forces with Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity, and The Boat Company to file the suit, and are jointly represented by CRAG law center.
 
WTF?
The legal outrage at the heart of this lawsuit is political suppression of science by the Forest Service and Parnell administration. Dr. Person first circulated his concerns within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, where he worked at the time. The comments were buried by the agency and by higher-level state bureaucrats to implement Governor Parnell’s “one voice” policy, which suppresses troublesome science in order to maximize logging.
 
Dr. Person’s strongly held concerns were discovered through public records requests. Then, after confronting the Forest Service with the material in comments on the Big Thorne draft environmental impact statement, the agency simply ignored it.
 
 In this case, that gambit by the two governments backfired. The declaration, prepared after Person quit ADF&G, was filed by the plaintiffs in an administrative appeal of the August 2013 Big Thorne decision. The project was put on hold for nearly a year while Dr. Person’s declaration was reviewed.
 
A special six-person Wolf Task Force with personnel from the Forest Service, ADF&G and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, reviewed the declaration. Opinion was evenly split. This is not surprising, given political pressure and the state’s one-voice policy. Breaking ranks was a Forest Service biologist who has done wolf research on the island.
 
All of which fits the “one-voice” pattern that has been embraced so corrosively by our last three Governors. It starts when a field-level scientist with the State ADF&G discovers a fact or makes a finding that implies concern for some development project. They write it up. Politically appointed bureaucrats review the biologists’ statements, cherry-picking the facts that support development and eliminating statements that raise concerns. The lower-level biologist is not allowed to talk with people outside the agency.
 
The Alexander Archipelago Wolf
The wolf population on Prince of Wales looks to have dropped very sharply in recent years. The US Fish & Wildlife Service is currently contemplating their 12-month finding on a petition to list the wolves under the ESA.
 
Nobody has a firm count on the number of wolves, but the basic dynamic is understood. Wolves on POW face two problems: (1) a legacy of old clearcuts, that are now thickets devoid of habitat value; and (2) unsustainably high hunting and trapping levels, spawned by the vast network of logging roads.
 
Habitat
The habitat problem is well-recognized by scientists; we are suing the Forest Service to force their land managers to actually apply that knowledge.
 
Without enough old-growth winter habitat in the forest for shelter, deer populations plummet during deep-snow winters. Without enough deer to go around, wolves and hunters compete with one another for not-enough-deer. That never ends well for the wolf. Hunters lose out too, because without the big-tree habitat the deer still starve in winter.
 
Dave Beebe winter deer
POW is the most heavily logged part of southeast Alaska, and what remains is increasingly important to wildlife. The project would cut more than 6,000 acres of old-growth.
 
Theoretically, the Forest Plan “conservation strategy” protects the deer/ wolf/ hunter relationship by requiring areas of the forest to keep enough forest habitat to support 18 deer/ sq mi.. The Big Thorne area is already well below this figure, and the proposed logging would push it even lower.
 
Scientists, including Dr. Person, have been hollering about the 18 deer/ sq mi. threshold for years, to no avail. Without enough underlying habitat, the whole system of interaction between deer, wolves and hunters breaks down, they say. Without habitat, fiddling around with hunting regulations doesn’t matter.
 
That’s not what the Forest Service wants to hear, however, so they’ve ignored it. This reality interferes with their plan to stay out of roadless areas by concentrating logging in sacrifice zones like Prince of Wales. The Forest Service don't want to admit to locals that cutting all those trees means they won’t have enough deer to hunt.
 
The State, who is in charge of managing wildlife, just wants to blame wolves.
 
Which brings us to the emotional heart of the issue.
 
Some Humans Don’t Love Wolves
The second threat to wolves is unsustainable hunting and trapping. A determined trapper or two can take every wolf in an area, and that’s what’s been happening on Prince of Wales.
 
In fall of 2012, Dr. Person determined through DNA sampling that there were about 29 wolves in the project area, in two packs.
 
In spring of 2013, he could only account for six or seven remaining. That winter, at least 15 wolves were killed legally, more when you count poaching.
Last winter was even worse, reducing the lone remaining pack of 13 to only 4.
 
The Forest Service claims that problem should be left to State game management to more strictly regulate hunters and trappers.
 
But is that right? I disagree that the folks who hunt and trap wolves on POW are blood-thirsty, stupid, and they almost always care deeply about a healthy environment.
 
The problem isn’t mean people, it’s bad management. Two factors are at play. First of all, the vast network of logging roads exposes pretty much every wolf to hunting. Work by Dr. Person showed that when more than 40% of a wolf home range is logged and roaded, it can become a population sink. The Forest Service proposal would bring it up to 80%.
 
The second factor is that wolf trappers are do-it-yourself predator controllers. When deer populations are low— and they are surely dropping as a result of all the logging— trappers kill a lot of wolves to help the deer.
 
The Forest Service strategy is to trust the State of Alaska board of game to keep wolf trapping sustainable. In reality, that’s obvious nonsense. The State would cheerfully kill the last wolf it if meant an easier venison steak. State sponsored predator control includes plans to kill 80% of the wolves around Petersburg, and all the wolves off another island.
 
Even if you could trust the State, and you can’t, hunting regulation can’t be the solution because the State has no population estimate for wolves. State management is predicated on knowing how many of a critter there are, calculating how many you can kill and still leave enough to breed, and fixing a harvest limit. But if you don’t know how many wolves there are, how can we say what harvest limit is sustainable?
 
There is also the problem of poaching. Dr. Person’s work has shown illegal harvest can be roughly equivalent to legal trapping.  With deer shortages driving them, how could the State really regulate experienced and motivated trappers on remote Prince of Wales?
 
“All Rise…”
What Governor Parnell tried for so long to keep hidden, now will see the light of day in front of a Federal judge.
 
Deer hunters, wolf lovers, and scientists all have a direct stake in the outcome of this fight.
 
We’ll keep you posted.
 
 
 
 

 

Dec12

Paranoia Strikes the Deep: Our Oceans’ Bad Acid Trip

By Bob Ferrisrockfish
 
I grew to semi-adulthood in the 1960s deep in the shadow of The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane-energized Bay Area. How deep?  Well Santana played as a backup band at a dance at my high school during my sophomore year.  It also means that Haight-Ashbury was a real place for me and a locale where I saw my fair share of good and bad acid trips and even caught a glimpse of Janis Joplin at a bead store.
 
Nearly 50 years later we are now dealing with a different kind of acid and a different type of “acidification.”  Our oceans are souring because of our fossil fuel addiction and our nearly suicidal inability to curb global carbon emissions. And while the acid trips humans took were mostly psychedelic, the acid trips our oceans are taking are decidedly and wholly catastrophic.  There is no good news in this scenario.  
 
Until recently most reports about the consequences of ocean acidification have focused on shellfish and how the lowering of the pH (i.e., increasing acidification) impacts shell growth in clams, oysters and other mollusks.  Most see this as bad but few grasp the food-chain level impacts of this happenstance.  
 
"Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep"
Buffalo Springfield – Somethings Happening Here 
 
And now research is showing that the behavior of juvenile rockfish—those tasty denizens of our kelp beds and rocky shores—changes with the increases in acidification that we are likely to see within the life times of our children. The results indicate that the fish keep to the shadows more than normal.  In other words acidic conditions make them seek safety.  They essentially become paranoid.  Perhaps we will soon see scientists talking about acid-induced, piscine paranoia or AIPP.  But rather than debating names, we should be spending our time dealing with the underlying issues, which is and remains: carbon emissions.
 
Because of the above, it is particularly disturbing when we see proposals from industry or politicians that either do not deal with this issue or make the matter worse. The proposed LNG terminal for Coos Bay that was recently endorsed by the Oregonian is a perfect example of this dissonance, particularly when you see the tenor of the public comments during the publication’s live chat session.  The same is true for both O&C proposals and the Big Thorne sale in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast, Alaska that all forward the notion that cutting more trees in the most effective carbon sequestration systems in the world—northwest temperate rainforests—represent sound and forward thinking solutions.  Not on this planet and not at this time.  
 
 
We need to work on all these initiatives at once.  My hope is that at some point we will make progress and start to see proposals for leaders in industry and politics that make sense for us and the planet.  In the mean time we have to keep plugging along and network our asses off.  I will engage in a little of that this Saturday night at the celebration of Cascadia Wildlands’ 15th birthday.  So if you are near Eugene, Oregon please consider joining roughly 350 other concerned citizens: Supporting a great cause and plotting what to do about paranoid fish and leaders who lack vision.  Today (December 11th) is the last day for electronic ticket sales and please, please carpool.

Jul02

Delusions of grandeur on the Tongass

By Gabe Scott, Alaska Field Director

CORDOVA, AK—Big plans are in the works on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest.

It seems everyone has some grand scheme in mind for the largest remaining old-growth forest in the country.

The Forest Service is planning huge new timber sales, which they say will bridge the gap to a transition to second-growth. (As I type this post my inbox dings, announcing the arrival of a Decision to log over 6,000 acres of old-growth on Prince of Wales Island. Uh oh. Better make this quick).

The State of Alaska wants the feds to hand over 2 million acres of the Tongass so the State can manage them as a tree farm. Oh, Alaska. Our Governors say the cutest things.

Sealaska, the big regional Alaska Native corporation, is pushing land claims of its own, wanting some tens of thousands of acres to manage how it wants. This one has some merit – Alaska Natives are owed additional land. But surely there’s a better way.

The timber industry, through a lobbying group called the Southeast Conference, is pushing for a revised Forest Plan that would yield more and more profitable timber sales. 

Conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and Audubon are pushing their own grand visions, which would permanently protect the most ecologically valuable acres from logging.

On top of the various visions are layered a bewildering array of collaborative working groups, teams, roundtables, task forces, committees and subcommittees.

The recent Tongass forest plan 5-year review presented an opportunity for Cascadia to put forward our own grand vision for the Tongass. Good! We were feeling left out. Here is what we had to say.

But here’s the thing. Every one of these grand visions and grand collaborative efforts has merit; and every one of them is doomed to fail. There are no silver bullets. No amount of new timber volume will bring back the good ‘ole days of logging. No amount of new designated Wilderness will ensure ecosystem health.

I for one wish we would all just stop looking for a final solution, and come to grips with the fact that living in harmony with nature is a life’s work. More than a life’s work, actually. Nobody has all the answers and nobody ever will. The best we can do is learn from our past, be honest about the present, and be cautious about what we leave for the future.

On the Tongass, we need to stop drawing maps, get our heads out of the clouds and our boots on the ground. Here on earth there’s good work to be done. There are hundreds of culverts blocking fish passage, for example, that everyone agrees need to be fixed, but that no-one is willing to take on because it’s hard, messy, expensive work. It will only be done by putting one foot in front of the other.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some visionaries. But at the “end of the day” (is there even such a thing?), future generations won’t judge us by what we thought or what we said. They’ll judge us by what we DID.

In that vein, I’d better stop talking to you all and crack open the Big Thorne Timber Sale ROD. A hundred and forty-eight million board feet they say? Holy cow. We’ve got some work ahead of us. 

Jan31

Crony Capitalism on the Tongass

by Gabe Scott

Where is the Tea Party when we need them?

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with two thick Environmental Impact Statements — for the Tonka Timber Sale, and the Big Thorne Timber Sale — out of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. These fellas are a blast from the past, a nostalgic but savage reminder of why our work continues to be so necessary on Cascadia’s northern forest.

The Tonka and Big Thorne timber sales target thousands of acres of old-growth for clearcutting. Trying to stay clear of controversial roadless areas, they’re logging mostly “leave” areas between past clearcuts, on places like Prince of Wales Island and Lindenberg Peninsula. The result would be huge, continuous clearcuts. Sacrifice areas, really.

One big problem is these huge swaths of land will be worthless to deer during hard winters. In good weather, even a clearcut can be good habitat for a deer. But when deep snow comes deer seek refuge in the shelter of big trees, and rely on the lichens beneath them to avoid starvation.

A related problem comes when clearcuts grow back into densely stocked second-growth. This shades out undergrowth, killing the herbs and shrubs that deer eat. A second-growth forest in the “stem exclusion phase” is worthless to deer from about 30 years after logging out. The condition lasts about a century, nobody is really sure.

Loss of deer winter habitat has spiraling negative effects to wolves and humans who eat them. If this sacrifice areas strategy goes forward, the ecosystem won’t just be damaged — it will be destroyed, thrown fundamentally out of whack. Places like Prince of Wales Island and Lindenberg Peninsula will no longer be able to support deer, human hunters and wolves. One of the three will have to give.

It’s pretty clear how this story plays out. The last few winters have been hard, and the places that have been heavily logged have seen huge declines of deer. On Lindenberg Peninsula, where the Tonka sale is proposed, the Alaska Board of Game voted this month to limit the deer season and bag limit. Worse, they are considering “predator control” plans to kill off 80% the wolves in the area, in a desperate effort to leave enough deer to hunt.

These are the consequences of logging, so why are we still doing this? The thing is, the Forest Service sees it as their job to prop up and grow a timber industry in Southeast Alaska. These massive logging projects are based on the idea that if enough forest is sold cheaply enough, new mills will rise from the ashes.

The facts aren’t there to support the scheme. The truth is, not being able to find enough trees was never the reason behind the old-growth industry’s decline. The reasons are obvious: the price you can sell trees for went way down, and the cost of logging went way up. There’s only one mid-size mill left in business (just barely).

The fact is this: it is not profitable to log and mill Tongass old-growth on any large scale.

There are all sorts of gimmicks used to disguise the fundamentally unsound economics. The Forest Service builds, maintains and repairs a vast network of logging roads with taxpayer money. They try to hide the millions of dollars it costs to design, lay out, and do environmental analysis for timber sales.

The strategy doesn’t even obey its own logic. The Forest Service routinely issues exemptions allowing loggers to bypass the local mill and export logs overseas. If the point is to save the local mills, then why are these sales geared to export markets?

What is going on here is exactly the kind of “crony capitalism” that Sarah Palin rails against. We have a few dozen people in the logging industry, a Forest Supervisor, and local politicians co-enabling each other by peddling a tired old narrative. There’s a veneer of rugged individualism, but really these are government-made jobs. Taxpayers are paying over a quarter-million dollars for each logging job being created.

The “jobs versus environment” debate has become so entrenched that most politicians don’t know how to think any other way. Eventually the facts will catch up, and Tea Party folks will realize Tongass logging for the wasteful government program that it is.

Until then, we’ll have to keep fighting these big timber sales like it’s 1999.

 

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