Forest Service hears call for more Tongass wilderness

Posted: Friday, July 05, 2002

SITKA (AP) -- It was a scene no one would have imagined 10 years ago.

Of the 100 people attending a public hearing Tuesday night on U.S. Forest Service proposals for the Tongass Land Management Plan, not a single person testified in favor of road development or logging.

Instead, dozens emphatically urged protection of their favorite forest areas, particularly near Sitka, from new road building, logging and other development.

''The people have spoken,'' said Steve Jehly, one of the last to testify, to Sitka District Ranger Carol Goularte.

The roadless areas on the Tongass are not just local treasures,'' said Laura Bower, who participates in the spawn-on-kelp fishery in Hoonah Sound. ''They're global treasures.''

''This is my homeland,'' said Robert Sam. ''What happens to a human being when they go to a sacred place and it's gone? ... My spirit is deeply harmed by the destruction of these places.''

The hearing and open house were on the recently completed draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the Tongass Land Management Plan, drafted by the Forest Service in response to a court order to consider new wilderness areas under the plan.

The Forest Service's ''preferred alternative'' under the new draft remained the same as under the previous environmental impact statement: no new wilderness areas, and logging allowed on about 660,000 acres.

''We're certainly not ruling out making recommendations for wilderness,'' said Larry Lunde, a planning team leader, from Ketchikan. ''I would say there's a reasonable chance we would recommend some new areas. We have to go through and finish the process.''

Those who testified were unanimous in favoring more wilderness designations and fewer areas open to logging.

The Forest Service is soliciting comments through Aug. 17 on eight alternatives that call for varying levels of protection on the 17.8-million acre forest. The agency asked for comments on how the alternatives would affect subsistence and the economic and social well-being of communities.

The Forest Service's preferred alternative under the new draft SEIS sets aside no new areas for a wilderness designation under TLMP. The plan was designated Alternative 1, and was the ''no action'' alternative, since it would not alter the agency's TLMP decision prior to the judge's order to redo the process.

The crowd Tuesday strongly disagreed with that recommendation. Most speakers asked the agency to implement an alternative that calls for setting aside 3.2 million acres of new wilderness and another 5.6 million acres for protection from logging and road-building.

''It's a matter of fairness to us,'' said Floyd Tomkins, speaking in favor of additional wilderness designations. He contrasted that with clear-cutting that occurred on the Tongass under the long-term timber contracts for the pulp mills.

''I don't want to see any more roads going in the Tongass,'' said Jen Lawler. ''There's already enough roads. There's already enough areas that have been clear-cut.''

Those testifying used a variety of arguments against more development.

Some pointed to specific areas they wanted protected, including Kruzof Island, Poison Cove, Ushk Bay, Gravina Island, Rocky Pass, Kelp Bay, Deep Bay, and Upper Tenakee Inlet. They talked about their own use of the areas for hunting, fishing, recreation and subsistence, and the harm they said would occur if the areas were logged.

''Protect the undeveloped roadless areas for the future,'' said fisherwoman Karen Johnson.

Her sister, Clarice Reid, referred to a statement made by her father, the late Mo Johnson Sr., who advocated protecting habitat for the preservation of fishing.

Many talked about the high value of the timber for businesses other than logging. Besides protection of fish habitat, they brought up the growing tourism and recreation industries, which both depend on the beauty of the area.

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