Taxpayers Losing Millions as Feds OK Logging in Roadless Forests

The Tongass and Chugach National Forests contain some of the largest remaining stands of roadless ancient temperate rainforest in the U.S. They hug the coast of southeast Alaska, providing habitat for numerous wildlife species—river otters, grizzly bears, bald eagles, mountain goats, wolves, salmon, and more. Vital local industries, including commercial fishing and tourism, depend upon the health of the Tongass and Chugach. [1]

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, enacted in January 2001, protects areas like these from commercial logging. It also protects against oil and gas drilling, as well as extensive off-road vehicle use. [2] In May 2001, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman expressed support for the Roadless Rule, calling it “the right thing to do.” [3]

But when the state of Alaska filed a lawsuit in 2001 the Bush administration chose not defend the rule. [4] Instead, last June it proposed exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule’s protection.
During the 45-day public comment period, about a quarter of a million citizens sent in comments. Laurie Cooper, manager of the Alaska Rainforest Campaign, told BushGreenwatch that “99 percent of these were in favor of keeping protections on both the Tongass and the Chugach. The public is very much in support of protecting our last wild forests.”

Nonetheless, last December the Bush Administration announced the exemption of the Tongass from the Roadless Rule. [5] According to Cooper, the indefinite, supposedly temporary, exemption of the Tongass opens up 9.3 million acres of ancient forest for road development and timber sales. If extended to the 5 million eligible acres of the Chugach, a quarter of the land originally covered by the Roadless Rule will be unprotected….

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During the 45-day public comment period, about a quarter of a million citizens sent in comments. Laurie Cooper, manager of the Alaska Rainforest Campaign, told BushGreenwatch that “99 percent of these were in favor of keeping protections on both the Tongass and the Chugach. The public is very much in support of protecting our last wild forests.”

Nonetheless, last December the Bush Administration announced the exemption of the Tongass from the Roadless Rule. [5] According to Cooper, the indefinite, supposedly temporary, exemption of the Tongass opens up 9.3 million acres of ancient forest for road development and timber sales. If extended to the 5 million eligible acres of the Chugach, a quarter of the land originally covered by the Roadless Rule will be unprotected.

Cooper sees no economic justification for this level of logging. “Despite what the Forest Service or the Bush administration would like to portray, the decline of the timber industry is not due to the protection of these wild roadless areas,” she says. “There was a series of pulp mill closures, as well as an increase in supply from other regions of the world that made it uneconomical to log in the Tongass.”

Logging in the Tongass actually costs American taxpayers millions of dollars. According to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, “A recent analysis by the Southeastern Alaska Conservation Council estimates that U.S. taxpayers spent $170,000 for every direct timber job created by logging in the Tongass National Forest in 2002–an amount equal to more than four times the average U.S. household income ($42,409) for the same year.” The timber program could lose up to $30 million a year through non-competitive and under-valued timber sales. Plus, there is a $900 million backlog of deferred maintenance and capitol improvements to existing Tongass roads. [6]

“For 2001, spending on the planning process, as well as road construction, cost $36 million,” says Cooper. “And in return, receipts were $1.2 million. It’s a federal subsidy to keep the timber industry operating in the Tongass.”

The Bush administration wants to make the Tongass and Chugach exemptions permanent. It may use them to gut the Roadless Rule, which also protects some 44 million acres of forest in the lower 48 states. The administration is said to be preparing an extensive revision of the rule to give governors options to apply for exemptions in their states. [7]

As Cooper noted, Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey was previously a top lobbyist for the timber industry.

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Tell Congress to protect the roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest , and end taxpayer-subsidized logging, with Alaska Rainforest Campaign’s free fax form.