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The Planet

Alaskan Senators Target Tongass

Alaska's own congressional delegates have launched a two-pronged attack on the state's 17-million acre Tongass National Forest, an ancient temperate rainforest that is home to brown bears, bald eagles, salmon and -- as a result of its natural splendor -- a booming tourism industry.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) inserted language in the Interior Appropriations bill that requires the U.S. Forest Service to dramatically increase clearcutting in the Tongass National Forest. Stevens' action, which ignored recent scientific findings about the dangers logging poses to wildlife in Southeast Alaska, would doom Forest Service efforts to protect Alaskan wildlife, say Club leaders. The bill is slated to reach President Clinton's desk this fall.

Meanwhile, Alaskan Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced S. 1054, a bill that would undo the land-use reforms of the Tongass Timber Reform Act. The 1990 law, which protects 1 million acres of the Tongass from commercial logging, mandated the Forest Service to alter its "timber first" management policies. Murkowski's bill would reverse that mandate by requiring the agency to permit enough clearcutting to provide 2,400 timber jobs.

Yet jobs are relatively plentiful in Southeast Alaska. The area's July unemployment rate was 5.2 percent, compared with 5.9 percent nationally.

Murkowski's bill would also remove permanent protection from 700,000 acres of the best Tongass fish and wildlife habitat areas, an unprecedented attempt to repeal congressional protection for public lands.

"If this bill passes, the Tongass will suffer the same tragic fate as the formerly magnificent forests of the Pacific Northwest," warned long-time Juneau resident and Alaska Chapter Conservation Chair Richard Hellard.

Opposition from environmentalists, sport and commercial fishers, hunters, the tourism industry and Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles has stalled the bill for now. But Murkowski is expected to produce another version of the legislation this fall.

To take action: Ask President Clinton to veto the Interior Appropriations bill that directs the Forest Service to increase clearcutting in the Tongass. Contact him at:

The White House,
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW,
Washington, DC 20500
or e-mail:

Urge your senators and representative to oppose legislation, including the Interior Appropriations bill, that weakens the Tongass Timber Reform Act of 1990. Also urge Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to protect the Tongass. Write him at:

U.S. Dept. of the Interior,
1849 C Street NW,
Mailstop 6229,
Washington, DC 20240

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