Bush’s Chainsaw Massacre

The White House"s plan would leave 2.4 million acres of Tongass forest in Alaska open to logging.© student.britannica.com

Most previous presidents have used their "lame duck" year in office to polish their legacies by increasing environmental protection. By contrast, George W. Bush seems intent to win friends among loggers by "getting out the cut." In the latest assault on our wildest places, the White House has unveiled a contentious new management plan for the country’s largest national forest, Alaska’s Tongass.

The new plan does add some 90,000 acres of forest to old-growth reserves and protects an additional 47,000 acres that loggers consider most valuable for timber extraction. But environmentalists see it as a handout to the timber industry. "It leaves 2.4 million acres of wild, roadless backcountry areas open to clear cutting and new logging roads," says Tom Waldo of the nonprofit Earthjustice. Environmentalists would like to see all the unlogged acreage left alone, but are particularly alarmed at the audacity of the administration’s plan, given that its own Forest Service reported that only about 663,000 acres in the areas at issue are considered very valuable for timber production.

Timber companies, which will likely get access to 20 times the Tongass timber that was available last year, still feel that the plan leaves too many trees out of bounds to their chain saws. "It is critical that the final plan … allows our industry to survive," says Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, a trade group working on behalf of timber companies. "Survival means returning to a realistic timber supply level in southeast Alaska, not a continuation of the starvation level we have been struggling with for the last few years."

It’s likely that environmentalists, the timber industry, or both will issue a legal challenge to the plan. Without such action, it will become law in February after five years of deliberation.

Sources: Anchorage Daily News; LA Times