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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

The U-S Forest Service has released its management plan for the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska; the 17 million acre temperate rainforest that is home to two identified rare species. Environmental activists have sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to have the species listed as endangered, and plaintiffs in the case say logging destroys this hawk and wolf habitat. The judge gave a June 3rd deadline for response from Fish and Wildlife. Meanwhile, the Forest Service has gone ahead with a Plan which angers conservationists and loggers alike. Lisa Nurnberger reports.


CURWOOD: After many delays, the US Forest Service has released its management plan for the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska. The nation's largest temperate rainforest spans 17 million acres, and is home to at least 2 rare species, the Alexander Archipelago wolf, and the Queen Charlotte goshawk. Several environmental activists have sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to have the 2 rare species listed as endangered. The plaintiffs in the case say logging is destroying the habitat of the hawk and wolf, and the Federal judge involved set a June 3rd hearing for a response from Fish and Wildlife. In the meantime, in an attempt to avoid being ensnared by the lawsuit as it was during the spotted owl litigation in Oregon and Washington, the Forest Service has gone ahead with a land management plan that is drawing fire from conservationists and loggers alike. Lisa Nurnberger reports.

NURNBERGER: The biggest issue facing the Forest Service was how much logging to allow in the Tongass. The new management plan sets an annual logging limit of between 220 and 267 million board feet. That's about half of what was allowed under the old plan, issued in 1979, when the Forest Service admits it knew a lot less about wildlife conservation. But environmental activists say it's still too much. Brian McNitt is the spokesperson for the Sitka Conservation Society, which has lobbied for the Queen Charlotte Goshawk and Alexander Archipelago Wolf to be listed as endangered. Mr. McNitt says the new harvest level is about twice what it should be.

McNITT: It just continues business as usual, and that means that timber and the timber industry are the main focus of management on the forest.

NURNBERGER: But the timber industry calls the revised plan inadequate, saying it's not enough timber to keep open the few small sawmills that remain and draw in new businesses that would replace pulp mills, which have closed in Ketchikan and Rangel. The mills were the largest employers in those towns. Ketchikan Borough Mayor Jack Shea says his borough, the city of Rangel, and the Alaska Forest Association, will appeal the plan. Mayor Shea says its limited logging would damage the town's efforts to salvage its waning timber industry.

SHEA: Ketchikan Pulp Company is interested in putting up a veneer plant, but of course the success of that would depend upon the level of timber harvest that would be afforded. We also have had several more bids of interest in making ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, for the Anchorage market, and we were looking forward to using some of the pulp grade logs for doing this.

NURNBERGER: Ketchikan Pulp closed its doors in March. Mayor Shea says generous severance packages, unemployment, and retraining programs are keeping displaced workers afloat for now. But he predicts the effects of the closure will soon kick in hard. The Forest Service acknowledges the significance of the timber industry in southeast Alaska, but jobs are not its only mandate. It must also show that it's protecting wildlife habitat, especially for the goshawk and wolf, or risk the consequences of endangered species listings. A listing of one or both animals could mean the Forest Service would face continuing challenge to its timber sales in the Tongass, like those that plagued the northwest timber industry when the northern spotted owl was listed. US Fish and Wildlife Service is due to decide whether to list the animals as endangered. But Phil Janick, the Tongass regional forester, believes the Agency won't need to make the designations, because his new land management plan balances commercial and environmental values.

JANICK: I am confident it will sustain all forest resources over the long haul. We have been very attentive to the needs of the wolf in the strategy that you see here. We believe that the habitat strategy we have provided here in this plan does meet and exceed the needs of those two species.

NURNBERGER: Those needs include old growth forest, and Mr. Janick says the 10-year plan preserves 92% of all old growth. He says more than a million acres of old growth will be set aside as habitat conservation areas, which will be connected by other undisturbed areas. And the forester says 1,000-foot no-cut zones along beaches and river mouths will protect wildlife habitat as well. But the Sitka Conservation Society still isn't convinced. Brian McNitt is sure Fish and Wildlife won't buy the plan.

McNITT: It's devastating for both those species if the fish and wildlife service had any hope at all of avoiding listing before the new plan came out. I think that's gone now. I think this new plan assures that the listing of the wolf and the goshawk are going to have to go forward.

NURNBERGER: The Forest Service plan is scheduled to go into effect in mid-July. It's likely to face a number of obstacles along the way, however, including appeals and Congressional intervention. For Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Nurnberger.



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