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Logging in Tongass rainforest would imperil rare species

According to a letter from three past employees of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation to Sean Parnell, the Governor of Alaska, a proposal to bill logging the Tongass temperate rainforest would threaten two endangered species. In fact, the letter warns that if the bill passes and the company in question, Sealaska, proceeds with logging it is likely the Alexander Archipelago wolf and the Queen Charlotte goshawk would be pushed under the protection of the US Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“If these reserves are conveyed to Sealaska by Congress it will almost certainly lead to new petitions to list the goshawk and wolf as endangered species and the distinct possibility that they will be so designated,” the letter reads.

The Alexander Archipelago wolf. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Fish and Game Department.

Both the Alexander Archipelago wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, and the Queen Charlotte goshawk have been petitioned for protection under the ESA in the past, but the listings were declined. The government argued that listing under the ESA was unnecessary since the species’ habitat was already securely held by the US Forest Service. However a new bill in Washington would hand 85,000 acres of the Tongass—including prime habitat of old growth forest—from the federal government to a private company with a long reputation for clearcutting forests.

“If Sealaska applies the same logging practices on the proposed sites that it has applied to its previous selections, we can say without reservation that radical environmental groups will once again file petitions to list both the wolf and northern goshawk as endangered,” the letter reads. “Due to the politics surrounding this controversial issue, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the eight small communities that oppose the existing legislation would join the environmental groups in filing a petition or file their own petition for listing.”

The letter, from Dr. Wayne Regelin, Ron Somerville, and Matt Robus, also warns that the logging would likely impact deer populations, negatively impacting hunting in the area, a sport many locals depend on for food.

Sealaska, owned by several Indigenous tribes, has stated it will not practice clearcutting in the area if granted the acreage; however, many locals are skeptical given the company’s past practices.

Top: adult Queen Charlotte goshawk. Bottom: Queen Charlotte goshawk nestling. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It is our professional opinion that inadequate professional assessments of the potential wildlife impacts of this legislation have been conducted,” the letter concludes, advising that a more “thorough analysis” be undertaken before proceeding, including an assessment of “how the various options would impact deer, wolf and goshawk populations.”

The Alexander Archipelago wolf (Canis lupus ligoni) is native to coastal southeast Alaska, including the Tongass National Forest. It primarily preys on deer—which are deeply impacted by logging—and less frequently on beaver, moose, and rodents. Approximately 750 to 1,100 individuals of this unique ‘island wolf’ survive today.

Like the wolf, habitat loss is the primary threat to the Queen Charlotte goshawk (Accipiter gentilis laingi). A subspecies of the northern goshawk, this charismatic raptor survives in southeastern Alaska and British Colombia. The subspecies is smaller and darker than other goshawks.

The bill to grant a vast swath of the world’s largest temperate rainforest Sealaska was first put forward by Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski (R.). Alaskan legislators are hoping to slip the bill, known as S. 881, into an Omnibus Land Bill, though this maneuver could be prevented if the Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resource, New Mexico Senator Bingaman (D.), allows the bill to die in committee.

The bill has faced tough opposition from locals who say granting the acreage to Sealaska will threaten the area’s burgeoning tourist industry and destroy the natural resources that the small communities depend on.

“If these bills pass and the land is given away the fragile economic web in our communities will be broken. Small family businesses, Forest Service employees, and those who live off the land will be the first to be go. After that it would not be long before our communities would become ghost towns. Our very existence is at stake,” Roger DiPaolo, a native of the area, recently told DiPaolo is calling on concerned citizens to contact Senator Bingaman and encourage him to stop the proposal.

Locals argue that in this case clearcutting not only threatens the long-term survival of rare animals, but the long-term prospects for human communities as well.

In addition, the organization Alaska Wilderness League has an Action Alert on the issue.

For more information on the bill to log in the Tongass temperate rainforest: Locals plead for Tongass rainforest to be spared from Native-owned logging corporation

An immature Queen Charlotte goshawk rests in a yellow cedar tree. Photo by: Davey Lubin.

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Locals plead for Tongass rainforest to be spared from Native-owned logging corporation

(04/29/2010) The Tongass temperate rainforest in Alaska is a record-holder: while the oldest and largest National Forest in the United States (spanning nearly 17 million acres), it is even more notably the world’s largest temperate rainforest. Yet since the 1960s this unique ecosystem has suffered large-scale clearcutting through US government grants to logging corporations. While the clearcutting has slowed to a trickle since its heyday, a new bill put forward by Senator Lisa Murkowski (Rep.) gives 85,000 acres to Native-owned corporation Sealaska, raising hackles among environmentalists and locals who are dependent on the forests for resources and tourism.

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