The Pew Environment Group and 10 other conservation organizations called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today to stop two controversial timber sales in roadless areas of Southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest, one of the last intact temperate rainforests in the world. The groups asked Vilsack to honor President Barack Obama's commitment to uphold the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which was issued to protect 58.5 million acres of undeveloped national forests, including the Tongass.
An advertisement (PDF) running today in Politico points to the planned Central Kupreanof timber sale in the Tongass, America's largest national forest, which would log old growth trees and build 15 miles of new roads in roadless areas. The draft plan would mean a loss of more than 5,000 roadless acres and cost taxpayers more than $6 million to build roads associated with the project. A final plan for the sale is expected to be released this week. A second logging proposal would build roads in the Suemez Island roadless area, also in the Tongass. According to a May 28 administrative directive, Secretary Vilsack's approval is required for most industrial activity in inventoried roadless areas covered by the 2001 rule while legal issues regarding the rule's implementation are resolved.
"Action by local forest service officials to move forward with plans to log old-growth trees and roadless areas in the Tongass is at odds with President Obama's pledge to protect the nation's last wild forests – including the Tongass – through the Roadless Area Conservation Rule,” said Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group's U.S. public lands program. "It is now up to Secretary Vilsack to honor that commitment by stopping new roadless area logging in the Tongass and giving this crown jewel the full protection it deserves.”
In a similar test for the Obama administration, Colorado is expected to propose a plan to Secretary Vilsack in November that would allow new coal mining and oil and gas leasing, as well as road building and logging, in the state's 4.4 million acres of national forests. National environmental organizations and Colorado conservation groups have called on the Obama administration to reject the state's proposal.
The Obama administration has signaled support for the 2001 roadless rule, and Obama himself pledged to uphold the rule during his presidential campaign. In August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the rule, rejecting efforts to replace it with a discretionary state-based process. The previous administration had attempted to roll back the rule, including applying a temporary exemption to the Tongass from its protections, and initiating the state-based process in place of national policy.
Today's ad, which tells Secretary Vilsack, “Now it's up to you to protect our Tongass rainforest,” is sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environment America, League of Conservation Voters, National Audubon Society, National Center for Conservation Science & Policy, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pew Environment Group, Sierra Club, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and The Wilderness Society.