USFS: Tongass Forest Plan Amendment supports sustainable communities and viable economies
Environmentalists Say FS Plan Would Perpetuate Destruction of Tongass Old-Growth
By MARY KAUFFMAN
July 02, 2016
(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - Friday, the U.S. Forest Service issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Draft Record of Decision (ROD) in the Tongass Land Management Plan amendment process. According to the USFS, the plan amendment focuses on accelerating the transition from old-growth timber harvest to young-growth while maintaining opportunities for a viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska. The plan also contributes to sustainable and diverse local economies by promoting renewable energy development.
“Through years of collaborative efforts, the Tongass has sought a resolution to long-standing conflicts regarding timber management,” said Earl Stewart, Tongass Forest Supervisor. “This amendment is the culmination of those collaborative efforts, and aligned with the unanimous recommendations of the Tongass Advisory Committee (TAC).”
Bear Fishing at Margaret Creek - Located 26 mile north of Ketchikan in Margaret Bay/ Traitors Cove in the Tongass National Forest.
Photo courtesy USFS
The USFS says the plan amendment has a narrow focus and does not include changes to the Tongass Conservation Strategy, Wilderness or Wild and Scenic River Designation or changes to most land use designations. The plan amendment does not propose rulemaking to modify the 2001 Roadless Rule application to the Tongass National.
The plan amendment reflects the unanimous recommendations of the Tongass Advisory Committee to the Forest Service. The advisory committee included 15 members who represented a broad and diverse range of viewpoints and expertise. They were from geographically diverse communities in Alaska and the western U.S. and included representatives of state and local government, Alaska Native Corporations, the timber industry, the environmental community and the general public.
According to the USFS, the amendment also complies with a Memorandum from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who directed consideration of an amendment to the Tongass Forest Plan to promote a transition to young-growth management.
After publication of the draft amendment, public meetings and federal subsistence hearings were held in nine communities across Southeast Alaska in January and February, where public comments were received. Tribal organizations and corporations were also involved in the process.
The draft decision is the culmination of a comprehensive public involvement process that sought, and carefully considered, input from the public, local, state and federal agencies, federally recognized tribes, as well as previous decades of collaborative efforts. The USFS reported over 165,000 comments were received on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
According to Audubon Alaska, although the decision scales back the amount of old-growth trees available for timber harvest in the coming years, there is no firm deadline for finally ending this ecologically destructive practice.
In 2010, Secretary of Interior Vilsack instructed the USFS to transition the Tongass National Forest away from clearcut old-growth logging toward an ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable future. Audubon Alaska provided comments earlier this year on the agency’s draft plan to meet that objective. Audubon Alaska says the agency’s final decision does provide protections to conservation priority watersheds and avoids roadless areas; but the final plan also allows logging in ecologically important areas such as beach fringe and riparian (stream- and river-side) areas. Most importantly says Audubon Alaska, the plan will take 15 years to scale back old-growth clearcut logging, and would continue to offer some old-growth logging in perpetuity.
One small view of the Tongass National Forest. At almost 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest is the largest National Forest in the United States.
Photo courtesy USFS
“A slow but steady degradation problem has plagued the Tongass and its endemic wildlife for decades,” said Susan Culliney, Audubon Alaska’s Policy Associate. “Over time, seemingly separate logging activities have merged into what amounts to death by a thousand cuts. It’s time to conserve the remaining big trees for wildlife and sustainable practices.” Fishing and tourism are local industries that offer a brighter and more balanced future for the Southeast region. Already, these industries far surpass timber’s economic importance. The dwindling timber industry is heavily subsidized by taxpayers and it regularly exports unprocessed logs abroad, thus contributing little to the local economy.
“The FEIS’s planned entry into sensitive beach fringe and riparian habitat will clearcut the very areas the agency once set aside for wildlife,” said Melanie Smith, Audubon Alaska’s Director of Conservation Science. “Furthermore, allowing old-growth clearcutting and the associated road-building to continue on the Tongass exacerbates the already troubled wolf and deer populations on Prince of Wales Island.” An Audubon Alaska wolf report issued last fall identified old-growth logging with its associated road building as a primary cause of the alarming 75% decline in the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island, a conclusion also recently reached by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Audubon Alaska said they will participate in the objection period that follows and continue to provide and disseminate the best available science-based information for use in Tongass land management decisions.
Earthjustice has been working to defend the Tongass National Forest for over three decades and says the Forest Service's long-awaited proposal for amending the Tongass Land Management Plan are disappointing.
Holly Harris, one of Earthjustice's lead attorneys, said in a prepared statement, "Instead of making the promised rapid transition out of old-growth logging, the Forest Service’s proposed plan perpetuates the conflict and controversy of clear-cutting Tongass old-growth forests for at least another 15 years and possibly much longer, destroying the very same forests that support our world-class fishing, hunting, tourism and recreation industries."
Harris said, "Southeast Alaska has moved on to a sustainable environmental and economic paradigm and it is long past time for the Forest Service to catch up. The Tongass Land Management Plan needs to end the devastation of unsustainable old-growth logging.”
The USFS publication of the draft decision and Final EIS begins a 30-day FEIS public review period, which will commence concurrently with the 60-day objection filing period on July 2, 2016. Only those who submitted substantive comments are eligible to object. Following review and written response to the objections, a final Record of Decision (ROD) is expected late December 2016.
The Tongass Forest Plan Amendment, Final EIS, and Draft Record of Decision and instructions for filing an objection are available for review online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/R10/Tongass/PlanAmend.
Source of News:
U.S. Forest Service
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