The Obama administration has approved the sale of timber from the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The 17-million acre forest is the largest stand of continuous temperate rain forest in the U.S. and contains a lot of old-growth trees. It's basically a snapshot of what the world looked like before we rolled heavy onto the scene.
The U.S. Forest Service gave the green light for the sale after approval from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who stated in May that he would be the final gatekeeper on all decisions to sell timber from roadless areas of the national forests.
This first sale will come after seven miles of roads are built for the 381-acre clear-cut.
From NRDC's Save BioGems, not updated, but interesting background, in retrospect:
Stretching 500 miles along the southeast coast of Alaska, the Tongass National Forest lies at the heart of the world's largest remaining temperate rainforest. With its towering groves of ancient trees, the Tongass supports vibrant populations of eagles, grizzlies, wolves and salmon.
At the behest of the logging industry, the Forest Service has repeatedly tried to sacrifice this vast wilderness to clearcut logging. The Bush administration illegally exempted the forest from the landmark 2001 "roadless rule," which bans logging and road construction in the most pristine areas of our national forests.
In 2009, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that any road building or logging in some 50 million roadless acres of national forest, including the Tongass, would require his personal approval. But unless the Obama administration immediately reverses the exemption and restores full protection for the Tongass, timber sales could take place as early as the summer of 2009, threatening many of the old-growth stands that form the wild heart of this magnificent forest.
Vilsack said he approved the clear-cut in order to save jobs. It's the usual jobs-versus-environment frame, and it's a false choice. Cutting down old-growth forest isn't a viable solution to saving jobs: it's a boondoggle for the forest industry.
According to the Juneau Empire, Earthjustice's Tom Waldo claims that "building the road will cost four times as much revenue as the Forest Service is going to get from the timber sale." For more on how this deal was struck and who profits from it, read more here.
If you want to send letters or postcards, or donate to fight this kind of short-term, earth-unfriendly thinking, NRDC is probably your best bet.
For ideas on how to create jobs without destroying our natural heritage, see the Blue Green Alliance, a coalition of labour unions and environmental organizations "dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy".