ANCHORAGE, AK – Today, the US Forest Service (USFS) issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Draft Record of Decision in the Tongass Land Management Plan amendment process. 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. 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, the plan will take 15 years to scale back old-growth clearcut logging, and would continue to offer some old-growth logging in perpetuity.
“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 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.
Audubon Alaska report “Prince of Wales Wolves: The Long-Term Impacts of Logging and Roads Push a Tongass Wolf Population toward Extinction”
Audubon Alaska February 2016 Comments on the Tongass Land Management Plan Amendment Draft Environmental Impact Statement
Since 1977, Audubon Alaska's mission is to conserve the spectacular natural ecosystems of the state, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. Audubon Alaska uses science to identify conservation priorities and support conservation actions and policies, with an emphasis on public lands and waters. www.AudubonAlaska.org
Now in its second century, the National Audubon Society is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Our national network of community-based nature centers and chapters, scientific and educational programs, and advocacy on behalf of areas sustaining important bird populations, engage millions of people of all ages and backgrounds in conservation. Audubon Alaska, a state office of the National Audubon Society, has worked to conserve birds in the state since 1977.