In days when global warming is a buzzword, when more and more oil-guzzling cars are on the roads every day releasing carbon dioxide, the Bush administration last week announced a plan to open 3.4 million acres of the Alaskan Tongass National Forest to logging.In a move that is in keeping with the administration’s policy of backing big corporations, the proposed legislation titled the “Alaska Rainforest Conservation Act” is an amendment of the 1997 forest management plan that has kept road building and clear cutting in the region in check.
The area — part of the Clinton administration’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule — is the largest contiguous patch of forest in the U.S., totaling 17 million acres currently. That’s roughly the size of West Virginia.
The area is located on the western edge of northern Canada, just south of Alaska, and is pristine old-growth forest mostly free of roads, infrastructure and overall human influence.
The proposed legislation would open the 3.4 million acres, 2.4 million of which are completely remote and roadless, to operations by Alaskan logging operations. This would generate an estimated 267 million board feet (a board foot is the amount of timber necessary to make a board one foot square and one inch thick) per year — until the area is completely deforested, that is.
And though the legislation calls for “restoration” of the designated Tongass “restoration areas” that have “suffered environmental damage from clear cutting, poorly constructed roads, or other land management activities,” it only defines 28,000 (0.0002 percent) of the existing Tongass acreage, and none of the newly exposed 3.4 million as so-called “restoration areas.”
A few things to note: The Alaskan logging industry, the supposed benefactors of this legislation, accounts for less than two percent of the Alaskan economy; fishing, tourism, and recreation are far larger industries in the state.
So, even if the Act would benefit the logging industry, the true benefit to Alaskans would remain minimal. Furthermore, the act is called the “Rainforest Conservation Act,” but it actually begins to hack away at a large pristine area that, like all forest, functions as a carbon sink for our carbon-emitting habits.
Not only this, but because it is currently included in the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, any allowance of logging in the forest would set an unhappy precedent for other, currently roadless, wilderness.
Idaho is already considering opening up six million acres to mining and logging and Colorado, 4.1 million to development.
If any or all of these areas are opened, it will only be the beginning of carving chunks out of the 58.5 million roadless acres, then despoiling the rest of America’s parks and reserves.