ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The Bush administration
opened up undeveloped areas of the largest U.S. national forest
to logging on Tuesday, scrapping a Clinton-era rule aimed at
protecting the wilderness.
The U.S. Forest Service announced that it will exempt the
Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska from a national
rule prohibiting timber cutting in roadless areas. The decision
means about 300,000 acres of dense, old-growth rain forest will
be available for logging.
The forest covers nearly 17 million acres.
Timber industry supporters said it would help revitalize a
regional timber industry that has faltered since the area's two
pulp mills closed in the 1990s.
"We welcome this good news, coming as it has at Christmas
time, as a boost to the people and communities of Southeast,"
Gov. Frank Murkowski said in a news release. "This was a vital
step in our plan to rebuild the Southeast timber industry. The
Tongass should again support a vibrant timber industry."
Environmentalists portrayed the policy change as a
violation of public trust. They said the road-building likely
to accompany the new logging could affect 2.5 million acres of
"The Bush administration has turned its back on the public,
good science and the law in its effort to clearcut the
Tongass," Tom Waldo, a Juneau-based attorney for the
environmental group Earthjustice, said in a news release.
"This is obviously a Christmas present from the Bush
administration to the timber industry, which wants the right to
clearcut in America's greatest temperate rainforest."
The Tongass sprawls over spruce- and hemlock-covered
islands, rain-drenched coastline, mountains and glaciers. It
has long been the subject of debate between environmental and
Although parts of the forest have been heavily logged, the
remainder is considered North America's last major old-growth
temperate rain forest. The old-growth trees are prized by
environmentalists, fishermen and hunters for their contribution
to the natural habitat, but also by loggers for their
The two sides disagree about the effect of roads on the
forest. Environmentalists say they damage the habitat, while
development advocates say they allow local residents better
access to the forest for a variety of uses.
© 2003 Reuters Ltd