Plan to log Alaska park riles environmentalists

Associated Press
Published January 26, 2008

WASHINGTON - More than 3-million acres in Alaska's Tongass National Forest would be open to logging under a federal plan that supporters believe will revive the state's timber industry.

Environmentalists fear that the plan will devastate the forest. Critics described the plan, and similar efforts in Idaho and Colorado, as an attempt by the Bush administration to help the timber industry by circumventing court rulings protecting roadless areas.

The Bush administration released its management plan Friday for the forest, the largest in the country at nearly 17-million acres. The plan would leave about 3.4-million acres open to logging, road building and other development, including about 2.4-million acres that are now remote and roadless.

Alaska regional forester Denny Bschor, who approved the plan, said its goals are to sustain the diversity and health of the forest, provide livelihoods and subsistence for Alaska residents and ensure a source of recreation and solitude for visitors.

"There may be disappointment that the (allowable timber sales) hasn't increased or diminished, depending on your viewpoint," Bschor said in a statement.

Environmentalists said the plan continues a Bush administration policy of catering to the timber industry. "The new plan ... leaves 2.4 million acres of wild, roadless backcountry areas open to clear cutting and new logging roads," said Tom Waldo, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice.

The Alaska Forest Association, an industry group, said the plan fell short of industry's needs. If necessary, the group said, it will challenge the plan in court - a threat also made by environmentalists.