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TONGASS LAND MANAGEMENT PLAN: TRANSITION OUT OF OLD-GROWTH CLEARCUTTING?
In early October 2013, the Forest Service announced it will make a "modification" to the Tongass Land Management Plan in order to begin the transition away from old-growth timber sales. "It is obviously early in the process, but this announcement is a disappointing start," said Jim Adams, Policy Director for Audubon Alaska. "It doesn't discuss the most important elements of any modification to the Tongass management plan. There is no mention of ending clear-cut old-growth logging in 3 to 5 years to protect the wildlife and salmon of the Tongass. And no mention of shifting the Forest Service's focus to protecting and enhancing the fishing and tourism industries the region relies on for its economic future."
In early October 2013, the Forest Service announced the Big Thorne timber sale would be on hold until the agency conducts more in depth study of the effects the massive logging on Alexander Archipelago Wolves. The Big Thorne timber sale would put 120 million board feet of old-growth trees on the chopping block. The sale takes from approximately 6,000 acres of forest on central Prince of Wales Island, which already has been severely logged. Audubon Alaska and other conservation groups appealed the sale, concerned about impacts to vulnerable, old-growth dependent wildlife, such as Alexander Archipelago Wolves and Queen Charlotte Goshawks, subspecies found only within the region.
What's at risk in the Tongass from the unnecessary Sealaska legislation? Read the new Audubon report "The Costs of Senate BIll 340"
See this on-the-ground report from biologist Richard Carstensen, Sealaska Lands Bill S. 340: Global Treasures in the Karst-and-Cedar Shell Game.
Audubon has consistently stated our position about the harm the unnecessary Sealaska legislation will cause on the Tongass:
- Audubon Alaska's full report "America's Rainforest at Risk" or the Report Summary reveal how this legislation would allow Sealaska to "high-grade" the biggest and oldest Tongass trees for logging
- Letter to Representative Don Young about the harm the Sealaska legislation will cause to the Tongass
- Letter to Senator Ron Wyden about the harm the Sealaska legislation will cause to the Tongass
- Letter to Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about risks of Sealaska legislation
- Letter to House of Representatives opposing Sealska legislation
Audubon Alaska's full report "America's Rainforest at Risk" and the Report Summary examine the implications of proposed timber selections in the Tongass National Forest by the Sealaska Corporation. Although Sealaska has already made its final land selections under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the corporation is now seeking unprecedented legislative authority from Congress (S 340 and HR 740) to make alternative land selections in areas of the Tongass that are presently public lands. The proposed new timber selections would include a significant portion of the remaining very large-tree old growth in the Tongass.
Big tree stands on the Tongass have been targeted and overharvested (or "high-graded") for decades. Half or more of the very large-tree stands -- identified as volume class 7-- that existed in 1950 are gone. Today, class 7 stands are exceedingly rare, accounting for only one-half of one percent (or 81,770 acres) of the nearly 16.8 million acre Tongass. The amount of very large-tree old growth in Sealaska's proposed new selections is greatly disproportionate to the Tongass as a whole and exceeds amounts in Sealaska's existing selections by 11-12 times. Sealaska's proposed new selections include up to 16.6% of all remaining very large-tree stands.
The Audubon report traces the history of high-grading on the Tongass and shows how the Sealaska legislation, if passed, would allow the corporation to high-grade a substantial portion of the remaining very large-tree old growth on the Tongass, permanently reducing forest diversity and harming dependant wildlife.
About the Tongass
The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is our nation's largest national forest, nearly 17 million acres in size. In combination with British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest immediately to the south, it encompasses the largest intact temperate rainforest on earth. Stretching 500 miles north-to-south, the Tongass includes thousands of islands, countless streams, glacial fjords and lush valleys backing into spectacularly rugged mountains, and sprawling forests of majestic, old-growth cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees. The Tongass also supports abundant fish and wildlife, including all five species of Pacific salmon, brown (grizzly) bears, wolves, Sitka black-tailed deer, Bald Eagles, Northern Goshawks, and Marbled Murrelets.
Logging over the last century, however, has changed the Tongass, particularly by targeting the rare, old-growth forest stands with the biggest trees. While only nine percent of the productive old growth in the Tongass has been clearcut to date, perhaps half of the big-tree old growth has been cut. Yet these same, productive stands are also the most important for fish, wildlife, and ecosystem integrity.
While the Tongass still boasts healthy populations of fish and wildlife, many of its most important places are still at risk. Today, conservation of the Tongass is at a critical juncture. The U.S. Forest Service has recently completed amendments to its forest management plan, which continues to focus timber harvest on many unlogged watersheds with high wildlife, fisheries, and recreational values.
The Tongass National Forest provides us with the greatest opportunity in the nation, if not the world, for protecting temperate rainforest at the ecosystem scale. But this opportunity will require a new, balanced approach for conserving the most important places in the forest while also providing sustainable economic opportunities for local communities.
Audubon at Work in the Tongass
In partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and with input from dozens of scientists, local residents, and resource managers, we have studied, analyzed, mapped, and described the coastal forests and mountains of Southeast Alaska to identify the most significant areas of highest ecological value in the region.
You can read our conservation assessment online, download our watershed matrix, view our Conservation Area Design Map (2.5MB, PDF format) and a gallery of Tongass resource maps, or download the Introduction.
With this science, Audubon Alaska and TNC have devised a place-based approach to protect and/or restore the most significant places within the Tongass. If we are to ensure the integrity of the Tongass ecosystem--including the abundant fish and wildlife populations that people use and care about--we must protect places like the Cleveland Peninsula, Honker Divide, Port Houghton, and the west side of Tenakee Inlet on Chichagof Island, to name a few.
The Audubon-TNC conservation assessment also identifies some places where both careful timber management and conservation could occur through forest restoration activities and second growth management for wildlife.
Many thanks to the ESRI Conservation Program for their generous donation of ArcGIS software, which has been indispensable to Audubon Alaska's conservation science program.
What You Can Do
- Join the Audubon Action Alert Network to receive periodic email alerts on urgent Tongass, Alaska, and national conservation issues as they arise.
- Donate online now to Audubon Alaska to support our science-based conservation work in the Tongass.
- Ask your members of Congress to protect the Tongass National Forest.
Suggested text: "I am writing to voice my support for the protection of the old-growth forests of the Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is our nation's largest national forest and one of the most significant old-growth temperate rainforests on Earth. It is an important haven for productive populations of fish and wildlife that are rare or threatened elsewhere, and it is our last chance to protect the temperate rainforest at the ecosystem scale. Subsidized logging in the Tongass has cost American taxpayers nearly $1 billion dollars since 1982. I urge you to eliminate taxpayer subsidies on new roads in the Tongass, support a transition from old-growth timber harvest to second-growth harvest, and protect the spectacular American treasure that is the Tongass National Forest."
"The Truth about Tongass": National Geographic Magazine's article from July 2007, featuring photo galleries, video, article text, and an interview with Audubon's John Schoen.
Abstracts from Audubon's 2009 Tongass Science Conference.