Robert Dewey, Director of Habitat Conservation for Defenders of Wildlife, said that, "The Forest Service has passed up an historic opportunity to save the Tongass, our largest and arguably most unique national forest, from the further ravages of clearcutting. Shortly after the termination of the two monopoly timber contracts that have held the Tongass in a stranglehold for so long, the agency has relinquished its chance to make a comprehensive plan to protect biodiversity in this forest. Now we must do what we can to strengthen the plan and in the meantime work to save the Tongass' parts piecemeal."
The Defenders' representative said today's action gives more urgency to the need for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to initiate protection for two of the most imperilled species in the Tongass - the Alexander Archipelago wolf and the Queen Charlotte goshawk, an elusive subspecies of bird.
"The wildlife of the Tongass can now best be protected if the FWS responds to a looming May 31 deadline by proposing to add the Alexander Archipelago wolf and the Queen Charlotte goshawk to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)," Dewey said. "Despite strong scientific support for listing the Alexander Archipelago wolf, the FWS has been dragging its feet for the past two years."
In June 1995, the FWS formally denied a petition to list the wolf, citing the Forest Service's pending revision of its Tongass plan. In doing so, the agency overruled a recommendation made by its Juneau office. However, in issuing its decision, FWS also warned, "It is clear by our analysis that without significant changes to the existing Tongass Land Management Plan, the long-term viability of the Alexander Archipelago wolf is seriously imperiled."
In October 1996, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. overturned that decision by announcing that a listing decision cannot be based on proposed actions. The judge gave the FWS until May 31 to decide whether or not to propose listing the wolf as a federally threatened species. The Queen Charlotte goshawk faces a similar predicament and a similar deadline.
Dewey noted that, "With the overwhelming support of the American public, the Clinton Administration two years ago reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park. Similar efforts are now being considered in New York's Adirondack Park and Washington's Olympic National Park. Ironically, at the same time we are restoring the wolf in the lower 48, clearcut logging in Alaska is driving the Alexander Archipelago wolf, an otherwise thriving subspecies, toward extinction."
The Alexander Archipelago wolf exists only on certain islands in southeast Alaska and on a narrow strip of mainland. The islands that comprise the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest are essential to conservation of these wolves. Scientists estimate that there are only about 900 of Archipelago wolves, which differ physically from other Alaska wolves. About 29 percent of the commercially valuable federal, state and privately owned forest land on Prince of Wales Island, the stronghold for the Alexander Archipelago wolf, has already been logged - almost a quarter of the total land area of the 1.4 million-acre island.
According to numerous federal scientific reviews, further excessive clearcut logging of the Tongass will cause a dramatic reduction in wolf populations. The draft Tongass plan, which was issued for public comment by the Forest Service last year, was roundly criticized by the scientific community for providing too little wildlife protection. The final plan is similar and in fact indicates the agency may allow perhaps twice the 120 million board feet logged from the Tongass in 1996, much more than the market demands.
Dewey concluded, "Because today's action indicates that the Forest Service will not ensure the long-term protection of Tongass, the FWS should stand up decisively for two of its most prized inhabitants by proposing their listing under the ESA."
Contact(s):Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270