Above, a diverse coalition of groups worked to slow the rate of road building on the Tongass. Photo © Glen Ith
The bipartisan Chabot-Andrews amendment, which would eliminate subsidies for road building in southeast Alaska, has garnered support from a diverse, nationwide constituency. Groups favoring fiscal responsibility, environmental and conservation interests, the local fishing industry, hunting and fishing organizations, outdoor enthusiasts and even local businesses all favor the amendment. Proposed four times between 2004 and 2007, the amendment would eliminate government funding to plan or build roads for private timber extraction on the Tongass National Forest.
Congressman Robert Andrews, a Democrat from New Jersey and cosponsor of the bill, has estimated that since 1982, road building on the Tongass has cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. While the Chabot-Andrews amendment has passed in the House of Representatives several times by large, bipartisan majorities, it has failed to make it out of the Senate, where former Republican Senator Ted Stevens was instrumental in its defeat. Stevens was responsible for funneling $5 million a year toward Tongass road-building activities in the form of congressional earmarks, but since his 2008 defeat, those earmarks have disappeared.
Road construction costs on the Tongass are significantly higher than elsewhere in the contiguous forty-eight states, due in part to the forests difficult terrain. One mile of road, running through muskeg and boggy ecosystems, costs between $160,000 to $500,000 to build. From June 2002 through September 2008, the U.S. Forest Service spent 93 percent more on road contracts than it received in revenues on associated timber sales. This does not include the millions more that were spent during the planning, design and administration of the roads and sales. During the same period, Tongass timber has faced diminishing demand in both the United States and in Asian markets, and more than a quarter of the timber sales for which roads were built did not receive any bids for timber harvest, resulting in a complete loss of the road investment.
Southeast Alaskas economy is no longer dependent on lumber and wood productsthe industry currently offers employment for just a few hundred people. Tourism, recreation and fisheries have become much more substantial industries, and the Alaskan Forestry Association has expressed that, regardless of the amendment, current Tongass timber supply is simply not enough to sustain the timber industry in the long run.
It may be time for Congress to once again reconsider the funding of Tongass road-building activities for timber harvest. Senator Stevens has been replaced by Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat. The economic downturn and corresponding plummet in construction has reduced demand for timber from the Tongass, and with the increasingly high level of government spending being used to combat the economic slump, evaluating the need for such a costly program is essential. Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics would like to see the many diverse groups that favor this amendment encourage Congress to reconsider, once again, whether timber-related road construction on the Tongass is a wise use of taxpayer dollars.Jennifer Fairbrother
Above, Jennifer Fairbrother. Photo © Morgan Curtis
In September, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics welcomed Jennifer Fairbrother to our staff as a public lands advocate.
Jennifer grew up in the Coast Range outside of Philomath, Oregon, where thousands of acres of forestland were a step away. Her deep interest in the natural world was honed by exploration of these areas and an exceptional ecology program at Philomath High School. She studied philosophy and environmental science at Oregon State University before earning a masters degree in public policy with a concentration in ethics and environmental policy at The George Washington University. While in Washington, D.C., Jennifer interned for U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio and worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
She will be working on FSEEEs ongoing efforts, including wilderness designation for the Devils Staircase and Moonlight Dome, monitoring and providing comments on proposed U.S. Forest Service actions, collaborating on forest plan revisions and working to end subsidized road building on the Tongass National Forest.
This aerial shot, above, shows the Devils Staircase wilderness, situated on the far side of the Umpqua River. Photo © Headwaters Photographic
On a cool fall Sunday in September, I took my first steps into the Devils Staircase proposed wilderness area. A guide led our group straight down from a ridge to the bottom of a ravine, a thousand-foot drop through old-growth Douglas-fir, dense huckleberry and spiny devils club. Progress was slow, but we steadily advanced, reaching our destination, sore and bruised, after six hours of hiking.
Recent congressional action has moved the Devils Staircase a step closer toward the goal of wilderness designation. On October 1, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing regarding the House version of the billHR 2888. The director of the Bureau of Land Management, Robert Abbey, and the U.S. Forest Services deputy chief for the National Forest System, Joel Holtrop, expressed the administrations support for adding Devils Staircase to the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Holtrop noted during his testimony that the forest composition of the Devils Staircase areaDouglas-fir, western hemlock and red alderis underrepresented in the wilderness preservation system and would be a welcome addition. Both agencies are in the process of recommending minor modifications to proposed boundaries and actually increasing the size of the wilderness area. When designated, the Devils Staircase will double the amount of wilderness land located in Oregons Coast Range mountains to 60,000 acres. The Forest Service has recommended that Road 4100, which bisects the proposed area, be closed and converted into a foot and stock trail. This ridge-top road is currently not maintained, and adding this land will create a cohesive area that can be better managed for wilderness characteristics.
Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics executive director Andy Stahl testified at the hearing at the invitation of Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio.
DeFazio, the sponsor of the bill and a member of the subcommittee, continues to usher Devils Staircase designation through the legislative process along with his counterpart in the Senate, Ron Wyden. Wyden held a hearing in early October on the Senate version of the bill (S 1272), during which the administration expressed its support. At press time, the House bill had been referred to the floor for a vote. The lack of opposition at both committee hearings suggests that as the goal of wilderness designation for Devils Staircase draws closer, the pace of protecting wild public lands may be picking up.JF