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The Planet

Protect the Tongass | GE Crop Hazards | Clean Water Concerns

Tell the Forest Service: Protect the Tongass

By Laura Fauth

Urge the Forest Service to support permanent protection for roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest.

Tongass National ForestIn May, the Forest Service released a draft wilderness plan for the Tongass National Forest - one that does little to protect wilderness. Instead, the agency chose the timber-industry-favored "no action" plan for the Tongass, missing an opportunity to protect one of the world's rarest ecosystems. The plan, if finalized later this year, would keep 3 million acres of old-growth temperate rainforest in roadless areas of the Tongass open to timber companies for roadbuilding and logging.

The Sierra Club is urging the Forest Service to instead choose "Alternative 6," a plan that would permanently protect the remaining Tongass old-growth forest by banning extractive commercial activities such as logging and mining. Public comments on the draft wilderness plan will be accepted until August 17 and the Forest Service is expected to issue its final decision later this year.

At 17 million acres, the Tongass, located along Alaska's southeastern coastline, is America's largest national forest and the largest remaining temperate rainforest on Earth. A dramatic landscape of mountain peaks, glaciers, free-flowing rivers, fjords, muskeg and forest, the Tongass provides prime habitat for wolves, bald eagles and Alaskan brown bears and contains rich salmon spawning grounds.

Over the past 45 years, the timber industry has clearcut more than 1 million acres of old-growth forest and built nearly 5,000 miles of logging roads in southeast Alaska. American taxpayers subsidize these roads and timber sales at a cost of $30 million a year, according to the General Accounting Office. "We shouldn't be selling off our nation's heritage - let alone at fire-sale prices," says the Club's regional representative, Sara Chapell.

The Forest Service is currently moving forward with 33 large-scale, industrial timber sales in roadless areas of the Tongass - all in areas that are supposed to be protected by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The roadless rule, finalized by the Clinton administration in 2001, protects 58.5 million acres of national forest roadless areas. But despite the fact that the Forest Service has received more than 2 million letters and comments from citizens expressing support for the rule, the Bush administration has been working to undermine the popular plan since taking office.

"Permanent wilderness protection for the Tongass will ensure that hunting, fishing and subsistence opportunities are protected for future generations," says Chapell. "The Forest Service has the chance to listen to the millions of Americans who support protection of our wild national forests instead of bowing to the demands of the timber industry."

Urge the Forest Service to support permanent protection for roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest. Ask the Forest Service to choose Alternative 6, which will protect Alaska's Tongass National Forest for the enjoyment of future generations by banning extractive commercial activities such as logging and mining. Write to Dennis Bschor, Alaska Regional Forester, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, c/o Sierra Club 201 Barrow Street, Ste. 101, Anchorage, AK 99501. For more information, or to send an e-mail to the Forest Service, visit

Hearings Urged on GE Crop Hazards

By Laura Fauth

Urge Sen. Harkin to hold hearings on the contamination caused by genetically engineered crops.

Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser has been ordered to pay Monsanto nearly $175,000 in damages and court costs for illegally growing and selling a proprietary strain of genetically engineered canola. Schmeiser insists that he never planted Monsanto's patented canola and that it must have drifted from a neighbor's farm or fallen from a passing trucking.

Scientific studies support Schmeiser's theory that pollen can be transferred - by insects or wind, for example - from GE crops to neighboring farms. GE seeds may also fall off trucks and farm machinery during transport, leading to the growth of stray plants.

As GE organisms are being released to the environment on a massive scale - nearly 80 million acres of North American farmland were planted with GE seed in 1999 - the Sierra Club is urging full public disclosure, discussion and evaluation of the potential hazards of genetic engineering. The Club is currently calling on Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, to hold hearings on the contamination problems created by GE crops.

A study by the European Environment Agency found that pollen from GE crops traveled beyond the buffer zones meant to separate GE crops from conventional crops. The report concluded that under current farm practices, local contamination between crops is inevitable. Crop contamination is particularly distressing to organic farmers. When a trace of GE corn was found in tortilla chips made by Terra Prima, a Wisconsin organic food maker, the company was forced to pull the product from stores in seven European countries. Pollen from a neighboring farm was blamed for the contamination.

Organic foods have surged in popularity over the past decade, in part because the organic standard excludes genetically modified crops. If organic food producers can't guarantee that their products are free from GE contamination, "the market for organic foods could go into a tailspin," says Laurel Hopwood, chair of the Club's Genetic Engineering Committee.

Contamination also reduces consumer choice, points out Hopwood. "As ecosystems are invaded by uncontrollable pollen drift from genetically engineered crops, consumers won't have any choice about what's on their dinner plates," says Hopwood. "Farmers, consumers and environmentalists can make common cause in opposing this madness."

Urge Sen. Harkin to hold hearings on the contamination caused by genetically engineered crops. Ask that the hearings include a cross section of participants, including farmers, environmentalists and consumers. Write to: Sen. Tom Harkin, U.S. Senate, 731 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510; call (202) 224-3254; fax (202) 224-9369; or e-mail For a sample letter visit

Clean Water Concerns

By George Sorvalis

On May 3, the Bush administration dealt a blow to clean water by ending a 25 year-old prohibition on using waste materials to fill waters. This rule legalized the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and could lead to the degradation of waterways and wetlands across the country. Under the new definition, hard-rock mining wastes, waste plastics, construction debris and other wastes may be used to fill in waters.

A week later, a district court in West Virginia stopped the administration in its tracks by ruling that the filling of valleys by mountaintop removal mines is pure waste disposal and not "fill" authorized by the Clean Water Act. In addition, members of Congress have introduced the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 4683), which would prevent waste from being used to fill waters.

Ask your representative to co-sponsor H.R. 4683, the Clean Water Protection Act, to prevent waste from being used as fill material. To join the Sierra Club's wetland/clean water action network, e-mail George Sorvalis at

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