ANCHORAGE (AP) A new report by environmental groups lists Alaska's Tongass National Forest as one of the 10 most endangered forests in the country because of threats from logging and other development.
The Forest Service and timber industry supporters largely dismissed the report as rubbish.
The 40-page report by Greenpeace and the National Forest Protection Alliance, issued Tuesday, said the Tongass ''is under constant attack by a hostile Alaska congressional delegation and an extremely pro-development legislature.''
It cited threats from ''industrial-scale commercial logging'' and efforts to exclude the Tongass from a Clinton-era policy, dubbed the Roadless Rule, that bars timber cutting and road construction from 58 million acres of pristine forest nationwide.
The rule, challenged by several Western states including Alaska, was recently upheld by a federal appeals court. But the Forest Service is widely expected to initiate a new roadless policy, as soon as this week, that may exempt the Tongass and Chugach National Forest from the logging ban.
Greenpeace and the Forest Alliance said the Bush administration is proposing rollbacks to the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act that would lead to unprecedented levels of logging, mining and other development in the country's federally owned forests.
Forest Service spokesman Dennis Neill said the report grossly overstates the alleged threats to the Tongass ecosytsem. The term ''industrial-scale logging'' is so out of context in today's Tongass, Neill said, that it's a complete fabrication.
Southeast Alaska, home of the Tongass, used to have two large pulp mills but they closed in the 1990s. Now the region with Alaska's biggest trees hosts just three small sawmills, hundreds of logging jobs are gone, and the timber industry is a shadow of its past.
''This is not Louisiana Pacific. This is not industrial-scale logging. This is like family farming. That's the timber industry we have today and that's what we're trying to keep operating,'' Neill said.
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