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Major Environmental Groups Support Tongass Jewel as Wilderness; S.340 - The Sealaska Bill Destroys it

By Davey Lubin


April 22, 2013
Monday PM

The Sealaska lands bill has been re-introduced in Congress as S. 340, and alarmingly, this misguided, highly controversial bill is scheduled for a hearing in Senate Natural Resources on April 25th.  

Anyone with even the slightest environmental standards would be horrified at the final consequences of S.340.    The fact that the US Forest Service is entertaining more than a cursory look at this highly destructive bill, calls into question the agency’s judgment.  This is especially true since, to begin with, there is absolutely no need for this bill;  anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or ill-informed.

How bad is S.340?  A formal environmental coalition Wilderness review ranked Keete, on Prince of Wales Island, one of the highest value areas on the Tongass.   S.340 trashes Keete

These groups supported (and presumably still support) Wilderness for Keete:

Alaska Center for the Environment
Alaska Wilderness League
Defenders of Wildlife
National Audubon Society-Alaska State Office
Natural Resources Defense Council
Sierra Club
Sitka Conservation Society
SEACC  - Did a separate comment - wanted LUD 2 protection instead of Wilderness
The Wilderness Society

S. 340 will turn this irreplaceable American jewel into a massive 18.5 square mile clearcut zone.
See Map: Ten environmental groups support Keete Wilderness – S. 340 Destroys it  (Click Here)

In 2002, ten major environmental groups, members of the Alaska Rainforest Campaign (ARC)[see above], underwent an extensive review of the absolute cream of the crop, irreplaceable places on the Tongass. This was done as part of the USFS TLMP formal review of roadless areas for Wilderness consideration:

ARC groups had the very best analytical people and specialists on hand to evaluate landscapes.  With little surprise, they placed Keete, a real gem, at the very top of areas most deserving of Wilderness designation on the Tongass.  

Keete is also at the very top of Trout Unlimited's highest value Tongass fisheries watersheds.  It lies sandwiched between Nutkwa LUD2, lands established in one of the hardest fights in conservation history, and the stunning South Prince of Wales Wilderness.  S 340 would destroy a huge wildland complex, by ripping the biological heart right out of the middle.

The Keete is the tip of the iceberg; it serves as a red flag pointing at the rest of the incredible places that would get destroyed in this bill.  Also on Sealaska’s hit list is North Kuiu Island (Security Bay & Saginaw Bay watersheds) legendary for it’s rich wildlife values, including high concentrations of BIG black bears and large tree stands – an increasingly rare resource on the Tongass.

S. 340 will disproportionately log the last remaining stands of large-tree old-growth known as size Class 6 and 7 on the forest. These stands only occur on a tiny fraction of the over-all forest. Yet, nearly a third of Sealaska’s proposed old-growth selections are large-tree stands.  The logging they propose under this bill would reduce the largest trees (size class 7)  by 10% Tongass-wide.  These stands are the pinnacle of the richest and rarest wildlife habitat on the Tongass-- places that you would never forget if you visited one.   Sealaska seeks to log some of the rarest and largest old-growth forests left on the planet! How’s that for so-called “environmental stewardship and traditional values”?  

Pictures of High Volume Old Growth (Click Here) another (Click Here).  Link to 300 scientists letter critical of Sealaska’s high-grading (Click Here pdf).

S.340 areas are exactly – precisely – the places that we should be protecting on the Tongass, at all cost. The environmental groups’ own analysis shows this – and there is wide agreement on the matter  (See end note).  These are priceless treasures.  A serious conservationist would never, in a million years, sacrifice them to Sealaska’s destructive practices.

News on S.340 has focused on nine POW communities that fiercely oppose the bill, citing loss of multiple use lands that they depend on.  Places like Calder Bay, or McKenzie Inlet are very rich in fish and wildlife qualities.  McKenzie’s big-tree old-growth habitat is ranked in the top 5% among 117 watersheds in a region-wide assessment and ranked in the top 3% for marbled murrelet nesting habitat.  The Calder Bay selection has communities livid.  Its spectacular old growth fish and wildlife habitat is, again, rich in all large-tree forest dependent species, ranking it in the top tier of all Tongass watersheds (see end note).

The Forest Service and some very irresponsible groups consider Keete and the rest of the S.340 areas to be disposable.  Trading fodder to be trashed for unethical and expedient reasons.  Even a brief look at the facts shows just how wrong they are.

We should never tolerate something like this in America’s premier national forest.

Davey Lubin
Sitka, AK

Reference: Schoen and Dovichin, eds., A Conservation Assessment and Resource Synthesis for The Coastal Forests & Mountain Ecoregion in Southeast Alaska and the Tongass National Forest, The Nature Conservancy and Audubon Alaska (March 2007).

About: Lubin, captain and owner of the Esther G II., has over 30 years of experience on the waters and wildlands of Southeast Alaska. He operates a wildlife tour and wilderness sea taxi service out of Sitka. He has been to DC, fighting hard against the legislation, 4 times since the original bill was introduced

Received April 22, 2013 - Published April 22, 2013


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