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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > Businesses Oppose Tongass Logging

Businesses Oppose Tongass Logging

Date : 25th August 2003, Source : Wall Street Journal

Three Big Businesses Oppose Logging in Alaskan Forest


Environmental groups seeking to protect the Alaskan rainforest have gained some unlikely new allies among big businesses.

Three major users of wood products -- home builder KB Home, office-store company Staples Inc. and Hayward Lumber Inc., a big supplier of building materials -- are opposing a Bush administration plan to exclude southeastern Alaska's Tongass National Forest from a prohibition against building new roads in nearly 60 million acres of national forests. All three have sent letters to the U.S. Forest Service in recent weeks opposing the Tongass exclusion.

The so-called roadless rule was first adopted in the waning days of the Clinton administration, but its implementation has been delayed pending reviews by the Bush administration. In June, Forest Service officials proposed excluding both the Tongass and Chugach national forests in Alaska from the rule, saying the timber lockups would further jeopardize the state's economy. The move also helped settle a suit over the issue that had been filed against the federal government by the state of Alaska.

Environmental activists protested the action, calling it a cave- in to timber interests that would imperil some of the U.S.'s last remaining stands of ancient trees. In arguing that the Tongass should be exempted from the roadless rule, Mark Rey, an undersecretary of the Agriculture Department, which oversees the Forest Service, says the plan to build more roads in the forest would affect only about 5% of the forest's total of 17 million acres.


  • Totals 17 million acres in Alaska's southeastern archipelago

  • About one-third of area is considered commercial forestland

  • 4% of the forest contains biggest, old-growth trees

  • World's largest intact coastal temperate rain forest: rarer than tropical rain forest

Environmentalists concede that a small part of the total forestland would be affected by the loosening of restrictions, but add that it most affects the particular section of forest containing much of the Tongass's lushest, oldest trees, many of them hundreds of years old. What's more, they note that roughly two-thirds of the Tongass isn't even forested, so that saying its touches only 5% of the total area understates the actual proportion of forest that would be open to logging.

"Our big beef is that the really important places in the forest are the ones where the Forest Service wants to do more logging and road building," said Jeremy Anderson, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, an environmental group in Juneau, Alaska.

Responding to requests from activists, the Forest Service extended the deadline for public comment on the proposed exemption to Sept. 2 from Aug. 14. Meanwhile, officials of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a big environmental group based in New York, said it persuaded the three companies to send letters to the administration supporting the activists' opposition to new road building in the Tongass.

All three companies have worked with the environmental group to devise policies aimed at reducing their dependence on wood taken from virgin forests like the Tongass, which ranks as the largest national forest in America. The policies have been developed, in some cases, following pressure from environmental groups and shareholders.

Forest Service officials said they would consider the companies' comments along with all the rest, but added that none of them appeared to be direct consumers of Tongass wood products. "If they are trying to establish some sort of consumer credential by doing this, we would consider this a hollow gesture," said Mr. Rey.

The three companies said so much wood is on the market already that they don't want or need timber out of either the Tongass or the Chugach, a smaller forest near Anchorage. "Ample supplies of wood products can be found elsewhere; and we need not violate our most precious natural assets," Andrew Henderson, KB's director of government and public affairs, wrote the Forest Service on Aug. 5.

Similarly, Staples, of Framingham, Mass., said it was committed to phasing out paper products made from endangered forests, under a policy enacted in November after environmentalists staged protests at some company outlets. "National treasures such as the Tongass are a national trust which must be preserved for future generations...," Mark Buckley, a Staples vice president, wrote in an Aug. 8 letter to the agency.

Officials of Hayward Lumber in Monterey, Calif., said any products coming out of places like the Tongass probably would be viewed negatively by consumers, and therefore become a liability. "Builders, developers and material suppliers continue to be cast as exploiters and plunderers and, given past actions, this characterization is not entirely unwarranted," Steven Brauneis, Hayward's director of sustainability, said in his Aug. 8 letter.

A final decision on the Tongass is expected by the end of the year.

Document last updated on Wednesday 01 August 2018

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