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Greenpeace Calls for Alaska Rainforest Protection

Mary Pemberton / AP News  / Kenai Peninsula Clarion / January 4, 2005

Anchorage- Alaska's coastal rainforest is one of America's last remaining intact forests and should be spared large-scale logging and road-building, Greenpeace said in a report released Monday.

In its "America's Keystone Forests" report, the activist environmental group describes Alaska's coastal rainforest as "the rarest forest type on Earth." Greenpeace includes it among 11 forests nationwide that deserve the strongest protections.

The release of the 48-page report was timed to coincide with the centennial celebration in Washington, D.C., organized by the U.S. Forest Service to recognize the agency's 100th anniversary, said Greenpeace spokeswoman Nancy Hwa.

"This report is an answer to what we think will be a lot of misleading rhetoric about the record of the Forest Service," she said.

Angela Coleman, a spokeswoman for the centennial gathering, said more than 400 people are expected to attend the event, which began Monday.

"Our goal is to learn a great deal from each other and figure out how we address some of the challenges we are facing," she said.

Greenpeace report co-author Pamela Wellner said with only 15 percent of the nation's ancient forests left, the 11 forests represent the "last best hope for saving the country's natural heritage. However, they are threatened by the very agencies that are responsible for them: the Forest Service and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management)."

Forest Service spokesman Ray Massey in Juneau said there is very little commercial logging going on in the Tongass, but the agency would like to see that change.

"We would like to produce as much lumber as Alaska uses," Massey said. "Basically we are here to support communities and keep the forest safe. This is not a national park. This is a national forest. It is multiple use."

The Tongass in 2004 produced 46 million board feet of lumber, well below the average 450 million board feet a year produced until 1994 when one of two commercial mills in Southeast Alaska closed, said Tongass spokesman Dennis Neill. The other one closed in 1997. There now are three, medium-size family owned mills, but one of them is not currently in production, he said.

"Logging is tremendously reduced," Neill said.

The goal for the Tongass is to increase production to about 150 million board feet, or more than the 100 million to 120 million board feet of finished lumber Alaskans use each year, Neill said.

The current Forest Service plan would allow for 267 million board feet.

"We have very strict standards and guidelines," Neill said. "We have a good system."

In coming up with the 11 forests, Greenpeace looked at forest fragmentation, road density, biological diversity and the health of plants and animals.

The more than 14-million-acre coastal rainforest in Alaska extends hundreds of miles from the state's southernmost border with Canada, up the coast and along the Gulf of Alaska to Afognak Island southwest of Anchorage.

"The coastal temperate rainforest of Alaska is the rarest forest type on earth," said Larry Edwards, a Sitka activist who participated in a Greenpeace protest last year at the Tongass. "It is also a good example of the inability of the Forest Service to get it right."

The rainforest, mostly Western hemlock and Sitka spruce, harbors a variety of animals, including five species of salmon, brown and black bears, wolves and bald eagles.

Other similar rainforests can be found only along the coast of Chile, on the Japanese island of Hokkaido and Sakhalin Island off Russia. Remnants can be found in Scandinavia, Edwards said.

While there is virtually no logging in Alaska's Chugach National Forest, the situation is different farther south in the Tongass National Forest. The report says the Tongass has been heavily targeted by 50 years of industrial logging.

"The primary threat in the southern portion of the forest is logging and associated road-building. Logging in the region is marginally economic, creating pressure to target valuable, accessible low elevation coarse-canopy forest stands, often in roadless areas," the report says.

The report also cites plans by the state of Alaska to build a region-wide electrical inter-tie and to replace the existing ferry system with many short ferry hops, which would be connected by highways.

Edwards said two-thirds of the Tongass' old growth forest is already gone.

"They are managing for the logging and other resource extraction," Edwards said. "We feel that instead of doing this they should be doing restoration and protection for what is there."

Alaska Forest Association Executive Director Owen Graham in Ketchikan said if Greenpeace gets its way it will mean the end of the timber industry in Southeast.

"That's probably Greenpeace's goal," he said.

(Back to Current Events 0105)

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