The U.S. Forest Service Friday released its long-awaited land management plan for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska - the nation’s largest and most pristine forest wilderness - calling for a range of new environmental protections, but also allowing a level of timber cutting about double that of last year’s harvest.
The 10-year plan prompted immediate and vehement dissent from environmental groups and timber industry interests alike, while the Forest Service defended the blueprint as a rational compromise.
Loggers could harvest up to 267 million board feet of timber annually under the plan, which is about half the current limit but more than twice the amount now logged per year.
“The plan will provide for the sustainability of the forest’s natural resources for future generations, while enhancing the region’s economy,” said Alaska Regional Forester Phil Janik in a statement released Friday.
But environmentalists sharply disagreed. “The Forest Service is intent on remaining a logging agency despite the very strong direction from the president, the vice president and others in the administration,” said Chuck Clusen, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based environmental group active in efforts to protect the Tongass.
Alaska’s congressional delegation also criticized the plan - but for restricting logging. “I want them to show us the timber,” Sen. Ted Stevens Stevens said, paraphrasing the line “Show me the money” from the movie “Jerry Maguire.”
The Tongass has enormous political, economic and environmental significance. The sprawling 17-million-acre temperate rain forest, rich in towering spruce, hemlock and cedar, is by far the largest remaining area of old-growth forest in the United States and home to numerous species popular for sport and subsistence.
Until recently, when the last of two controversial pulp mills were shut down, it also provided employment for thousands of loggers and sawmill workers in an otherwise economically depressed region of southeastern Alaska.
The Forest Service plan calls for:
Preservation of about 92 percent of remaining productive old-growth forest over the next 10 years and 84 percent over the next century.
Total allowable harvesting of 670,000 acres, including 475,000 acres of old-growth forest.
Designation of parts of 32 rivers as wild, scenic or recreational, for a total of 500 newly protected miles of river.
1,000-foot buffers alongside beaches and river mouths to reduce erosion.
Increased protection for caves and certain unusual limestone formations.
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