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07/17/2009

Obama Administration Approves Logging in Tongass Roadless Area

This past Monday the Obama administration approved its first timber sale in a roadless area.  The Orion North sale grants a Ketchikan lumber mill in the Tongass National Forest to clearcut 381 acres.  This is a very disappointing decision, especially considering President Obama's support for roadless areas as a senator and the pledge to uphold the 2001 Roadless Rule that he made as a presidential candidate.

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This past May, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack issued a directive requiring Forest Service projects in roadless areas to pass through the Secretary's desk for approval.  This procedural directive was perceived as a way to ensure that impacts to roadless areas were minimized or eliminated altogether while the administration crafted a comprehensive roadless policy.

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was established by the Clinton administration in 2001 and protected 58.5 million acres of undeveloped national forest land.  These roadless areas provide clean drinking water to 60 million Americans, provide habitat for 1,500 distinct wildlife species, and help create the connectivity our public lands and wildlife need to adapt in the face of climate change.

Even though the 2001 Roadless Rule received the most extensive public input of any federal rule in history, the Bush administration spent eight years trying to weaken the rule, including an attempt to replace it with a petition process by which states could opt to open their roadless areas to development.

We hope that the Obama administration's recent decision is not indicative of the roadless policy that it is working to develop.  The increasing threats of climate change make protecting roadless areas even more important now than it was eight years ago.  It is critical that President Obama keep his pledge to uphold the 2001 Roadless Rule, including protection for the Tongass National Forest.

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