Seven of the nation’s top scientific societies and over 200 leading scientists from around the nation called on the Obama Administration to speed up its transition out of old-growth logging on the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in July 2013 that a transition out of old-growth logging and into logging of second growth, forests originally logged in the 1950s that have reforested and can replace old-growth logging, would commence overtime . The Forest Service is currently amending the Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan of 2008 with a draft due this August . Unfortunately, the agency continues to put forward controversial old-growth logging sales at levels not seen since the early 1990s claiming that it needs to log old growth for another 10-15 years despite independent analyses that show second growth will soon be available to replace old growth timber .

Over 200 distinguished scientists, including Pulitzer Prize winners, were joined later by climate scientists and the American Fisheries Society, American Ornithologists’ Union, American Society of Mammalogists, Ecological Society of America, Pacific Seabird Group, Society for Conservation Biology, and The Wildlife Society in calling for an end to old-growth logging on the Tongass, the only national forest that still clearcuts its old growth. 

According to Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist of Geos Institute, “unprecedented scientific support for Tongass rainforest protections is a signal to President Obama that there is no time to waste in ending old growth logging on his watch, which would be a defining moment for the President’s climate and environmental legacies.” 

The three scientist letters each recognize the Tongass’ irreplaceable ecosystem benefits as:

  •  One of only six relatively intact temperate rainforests in the world.

  •  A national champion in sequestering nearly 7 per cent of the nation’s carbon on just 2 per cent of the nation’s forest base, making it an ideal candidate for the President’s climate change agenda.

  •  World-class salmon runs that are the backbone for a thriving subsistence, commercial fishery, and recreation-based economy.

“Protecting old-growth forest habitat on the Tongass is the key to maintaining the productivity and resilience of extraordinary fish and wildlife populations that have otherwise declined throughout their southern ranges in North America,” said Grant Hilderbrand, President of the Alaska Chapter of The Wildlife Society.

The Tongass is a national repository for atmospheric carbon absorbed by its large trees, productive soils, and dense rainforests that store at least ten times more carbon than any other national forest.  When rainforests are cut down, most of the stored carbon is released as carbon dioxide pollution, a greenhouse gas.

President Obama has made climate change his signature environmental agenda; however, his administration has yet to link forest protections with climate security.

“We are calling on President Obama to keep carbon in the trees, much like we need to keep coal in the ground - both are essential to slowing runaway climate change in Alaska and throughout the world for future generations,” said Doug Parsons, North America Policy Director for the Society for Conservation Biology.

Alaska has been hardest hit by accelerating climate change that includes sharp reductions in snow-cover, shorter river- and lake-ice seasons, melting glaciers, sea-ice and permafrost retreat, increased depth of summer thaw, die-back of Alaska yellow cedar, and displacement of aboriginal villages from traditional lands .

“Quickly transitioning the Tongass rainforest out of clearcutting irreplaceable old-growth forests would bring certainty to the timber industry and legacy rainforest benefits to the American people,” added DellaSala. 

For copies of the scientist letter click here:

SCB Tongass Letter