- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003


Some 300,000 acres in the nation’s largest forest will be opened to logging and road building under a Bush administration decision that supporters believe will revive Alaska’s timber industry but activists fear will devastate the forest.

The Bush administration said Tuesday it will allow 3 percent of the Tongass National Forest’s 9.3 million acres to have roads built on them and perhaps opened to use by the timber industry.

However, the forest’s remaining 16.8 million acres, or 95 percent of Tongass, is now off-limits to new construction.

“It’s something that the meager timber industry in Alaska needs to operate,” said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber-industry group. “We hear a lot about the timber industry in Alaska, but it’s been downsized to almost nothing. With this little bit of opportunity, it might resurrect some of the industry that has been shut down.”

Environmentalists say the decision is a “holiday gift” to loggers and worry the move will devastate the Tongass.

“In fact, the timber industry just might get everything on its list this holiday season because [Tuesdays] announcement comes just after President Bush signed a bill that increases logging under the guise of fighting forest fires,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a liberal advocacy group.

She was referring to a bill Mr. Bush signed earlier this month that eases restrictions on tree-cutting and brush-clearing in national forests to reduce the risk of wildfires.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, said the decision on the Tongass “paves the way for a resumption of some wood harvest for the Tongass, enough to support the surviving timber industry in Southeast Alaska.”

The decision builds on the Bush administration’s decision in June to settle a lawsuit by Alaska that challenged the roadless rule. As part of that settlement, the administration agreed to exempt the Tongass and Chugach national forests from its planned revisions to the roadless rule.

President Clinton originally declared nearly 60 million acres of so-called “roadless areas” nationwide off-limits to any new construction. The roads were traditionally built by loggers but also used by emergency workers and recreationists.

The roadless rule, imposed in January 2001, applies to nearly a third of the national forests. It was struck down in July by a federal district judge in Wyoming and currently is before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Forest Service officials said their decision to exempt the Tongass from the roadless rule “maintains the balance for roadless-area protection” while providing opportunities for sustainable economic development.

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