A coalition of conservation groups has filed notice with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to stop the massive Big Thorne logging project on the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska — America’s largest national forest. This appeal comes a lawsuit to stop the project was rejected by a U.S. District Court. The new appeal was filed by Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace, and The Boat Company.
The groups are right to challenge this reckless and devastating logging project. It would liquidate 6,200 acres of old-growth forest, fragment wildlife habitats, and push the rare Alexander Archipelago wolf and yellow cedar toward extinction. For the U.S. Forest Service, which is in charge of the Tongass National Forest, this is a continuation of decades of gross mismanagement. Vast expanses of ancient forest have been destroyed, pristine streams and wetlands have been fouled and diverted, native fish and wildlife have been driven out, and vast amounts of greenhouse gases released by logging have been fueling climate change. To add insult to injury, the Tongass logging program operates at a huge loss, forcing Americans to subsidize the destruction with millions of our tax dollars each year to sustain a handful of timber jobs.
In addition to being exploited, valuable pieces of the Tongass are being given away to private interests. Last year, Senator Murkowski quietly tacked a “rider” onto the congressional bill funding the Defense Department. This rider privatized 70,000 pristine acres of the Tongass by turning it over to the Sealaska corporation. The purpose of this outrageous giveway was to allow a greedy private business to profit from clearcutting and ruining what were formerly the public’s forests.
There are two alternate conclusions to be drawn regarding the Tongass National Forest. Either 1) the Forest Service is flagrantly violating the law as conservationists have alleged, which proves that it cannot be trusted to properly manage this forest or 2) the Big Thorne timber sale and other destructive projects are perfectly legal under the “multiple-use” mandate of the Forest Service, which allows logging, mining, and water diversions — activities that are seriously harming the forest. Either way, the Forest Service is the wrong agency to be in control of the Tongass.
The time has come to transfer the forest from the resource exploitation-oriented U.S. Forest Service to the preservation-oriented National Park Service, as a new Tongass National Park. Of course, such a campaign would face vehement opposition from the special interests that benefit from stripping away the resources of our forest. But it would gain broad support from citizens in Southeast Alaska and across America who want our forest to be truly protected. We need bold action, before it is too late.