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Friday, July 24, 2009

Staff Thoughts: A Step Back on Roadless Protections

Posted by Michael Lanthier

Last Week, the Juneau Empire reported that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had approved a timber sale within a roadless area of the Tongass National Forest. It is the first such sale since he announced in May a temporary ruling that would require all new projects in roadless forest to be approved by him personally.

The stated reason Vilsack gave for the sale, which includes at least 2 miles of roads to be built into the ancient old-growth forest, was to help provide needed jobs. But conversationalists responded that the sale does nothing to ensure a stable economy for the local communities and will end up costing tax payers more money, as the Forest Service already has a $10 billion dollar backlog on maintaining its existing network of nearly 400,000 miles of roads.

Conversationalist responds in an Environmental News Service article:

"The day when this kind of timber sale made sense is long gone," said Carol Cairnes, president of the board of the Ketchikan-based Tongass Conservation Society. "Cutting these trees will not even bring in half the money the Forest Service will spend building a road to get to the trees.

"The rest of Thorne Arm [a roadless area in the Tongass] has already been hammered with clearcuts," said Cairnes. “People in Ketchikan use this last pristine area for fishing, hiking, and family outings. The trees have more value standing than they do cut."

However the article expresses the larger concern:

“President Barack Obama's appointees in the U.S. Department of Agriculture are ‘dangerously close’ to violating the President' pledge to uphold and defend the 2001 Roadless Rule - a pledge he made both as a candidate and since he took office…. Said [Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo], ‘there are several other roadless rule timber sales in the pipeline and the administration has not provided any assurance that they will not grant those timber sales’."

Through eight years of the previous administration, which made a concerted effort to end the protections of the 2001 Roadless Rule, only 7 miles of roads were built into roadless national forests. Though President Obama promised to protect roadless forests, within 6 months of being in office already 2 miles of roads in pristine roadless areas has been approved.

Permanent protections are needed. Roadless forests secure clean water and countless recreational opportunities which provide a sustainable economic boost to local communities.

Encourage Senator Cantwell, a leader on Roadless, to push Obama to up hold the 2001 Roadless Rule; Write a Letter. Or write your representative and senators to support legislation protecting roadless areas, on which Washington’s Rep Jay Inslee and Sen Cantwell have been leaders. Find out more what Washington Wilderness is doing to protect the 2 million acres of roadless national forests in Washington State.

See a video by the Natural Resources Defense Council on clear cutting’s effects on the once ancient, roadless forest land in the Tongass:

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