Last week, just before families gathered to give thanks for all we share, Senator Lisa Murkowski released her FY 2018 Interior/Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill (or ‘Interior Appropriations’ bill for "short"). The proposed spending bill takes aim at one of the things that Southeast Alaskans are most thankful for -- the Tongass National Forest. Senator Murkowski’s targets, the 2016 Tongass Land Management Plan Amendment and the Roadless Rule, help keep the Tongass the wild place that we all love.
The Fiscal Year 2018 spending bill contains several toxic "poison-pill riders," including a blanket exemption from the Roadless Rule for both the Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska, and a rollback of old-growth logging restrictions approved in the 2016 Tongass Plan Amendment. SEACC, along with many of our conservation allies from across America, just submitted a letter to Congress voicing our strenuous objections to the two Tongass riders. With a government shutdown looming, Congress must pass a spending bill or another stopgap Continuing Resolution before December 8th .
The Roadless Rule protects Tongass inventoried roadless areas, some of the most spectacular and unique roadless areas anywhere in the National Forest System. Protecting Tongass roadless areas is good for tourism, fishing, hunting, and customary and traditional uses. New roads fragment the landscape and threaten the health of Southeast Alaska’s fish and wildlife, at huge taxpayer expense.
The Tongass Land Management Plan Amendment, passed in late 2016, reflects many of the consensus recommendations from the Tongass Advisory Committee, a multi-stakeholder group made up of the timber industry, conservationists, Alaska Native organizations, the State of Alaska, and others. Most importantly, the 2016 Amendment makes special roadless lands like Upper Tenakee Inlet, Ushk Bay, Port Houghton, Rocky Pass, Castle River, Cleveland Peninsula, the Honker Divide, Dall Island, and Bostwick Inlet on Gravina Island off limits to all commercial logging. Murkowski’s riders unravel years of hard work by Southeast Alaskans, mire the region in conflict and uncertainty, and threaten the old-growth forests that support our livelihoods and way of life.
The regional economy no longer depends on timber, but on tourism and fishing, which represent over a quarter of the total jobs here in Southeast. In 2016, the fishing industry earned almost $210 million and the visitor industry nearly $230 million. In contrast, today’s timber industry brought in less than 1% of all reported earnings in Southeast Alaska’s economy last year, according to data from Southeast Conference.
Although the Tongass is America’s largest national forest, two-thirds is rock, ice, muskeg, and scrubland. One-third of the 17-million acre Tongass is commercial forestland, but logging has always targeted the biggest and best trees on the Tongass, which represent only a tiny fraction of the forest (4%). Since 1954, about half of the biggest trees on the Tongass has been clearcut. What remains is considered low value and virtually never logged. What is left of the Tongass’ magnificent old-growth forests maintains Southeast Alaska’s economy, ecology, and way of life. These wild watersheds serve as the biological heart of the Tongass and support the healthy populations of salmon and wildlife that drive our fishing and tourism-based economy.
As one of the most intact, carbon-dense temperate rainforests left on earth, the Tongass also functions as an invaluable “carbon life-raft” that can help maintain America’s resilience in the face of climate change. Old-growth forests and undisturbed soils store far more carbon than developed lands.
Now is the time to protect all our Tongass wildlands and move forward together towards a sustainable future for all Southeast Alaska – not resurrect the unsustainable policies of the past.
Because all spending bills are now in the laps of leadership, Democratic leaders from both the Senate and House also need to hear how important the Tongass is to you.
Please call or email Senate Minority Leader Schumer (NY), House Minority Leader Pelosi (CA), Senator Leahy (VT), Senator Durbin (IL), and Senator Cantwell (WA).
Lucky for the Tongass, all these leaders have stood up for the Tongass before. In 1990, Senators Schumer and Durbin and Congresswoman Pelosi were House Co-sponsors for the Tongass Timber Reform Act; Senator Leahy was a Senate Co-sponsor, and Cantwell is a Ranking Member of the Senate Energy Committee and a steadfast Roadless Rule advocate. Thank them for their long-term support for the Tongass and let them know you need their leadership on the Tongass now more than ever.