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Scientists Ask President Obama to Save Tongass Rainforest

For immediate release on January 20, 2015

Contact: Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist and President; 541.482.4459 x302; 541.621.7223 (cell);

Ashland, Oregon- Seven of the nation’s top scientific societies have joined over 200 distinguished climate and natural resource scientists to urge 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 second growth (forests originally logged in the 1950s that have since reforested) would commence over time. The Forest Service is amending the Tongass National Forest Land Management Plan, with a draft due this August. Unfortunately, the agency continues to support controversial old-growth sales at levels not seen since the early 1990s, despite independent analyses showing second growth will soon be available to replace old growth timber.

The scientific societies calling for an end to old-growth logging on the Tongass National Forest (the only national forest still clearcutting old growth) include 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.

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, which would be a defining moment for his climate and environmental legacies.” 

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

The Tongass is a national repository for atmospheric carbon. Its large trees, productive soils, and dense foliage store at least ten times more carbon than any other national forest. When rainforests are logged, most of the stored carbon is released as carbon dioxide pollution, contributing to global warming in Alaska and worldwide. Alaska has been hardest hit by climate changes, including 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 native Alaskan villages. 

President Obama has made climate change remediation 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. 

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

Links to 3 scientist letters:




Link to analysis of available second growth:


January 20, 2015 article in ClimateWire  

   reprinted with permission from Environment &Energy Publishing, LLC,, 202/628-6500

by Corbin Hiar, E&E reporter

Scientists call for earlier end to old-growth logging in Tongass

Top U.S. scientists and scientific societies today signed onto a pair of letters that call on the Obama administration to stop cutting down old-growth trees in southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest as soon as January 2017 — a phaseout that would be more than a decade shorter than the Forest Service had originally envisioned.

Citing concerns about the effect of clearcut logging on fish, wildlife, ecology and conservation, leading officials from seven scientific societies expressed their “full support for an accelerated transition away from clearcut logging of old-growth forests on the Tongass National Forest.”

The scientists — from groups like the Wildlife Society, American Fisheries Society and American Society of Mammalogists — said the move to harvesting second-growth forests should be “completed as rapidly as possible, ideally within the next three years.”

Last spring, the Forest Service began updating its Tongass plan to facilitate a 15-year shift to logging younger trees in the 17-million-acre forest, the nation’s largest (Greenwire, May 23, 2014). The Tongass is also one of the world’s last relatively intact temperate rainforests and contains over 5 million acres of productive old-growth forest.

In another letter sent today, 14 scientists highlighted the importance of protecting the old-growth sections of the Tongass as key to the administration’s climate commitments and requested a “transition out of industrial old-growth logging within five years.”

“Older high biomass forests generally store up to ten times the carbon of low biomass younger forests, and a larger portion of their total forest carbon is stored in older trees,” the scientists wrote. “Thus, the prudent climate policy would be to preserve the Tongass’ high biomass forests as a long-term investment in climate change mitigation.”

The letters come on the heels of another more ambitious correspondence, sent in November and signed by over 100 scientists, that urged an end to old-growth logging in the Tongass “before the end of the Obama administration,” which is two years from today.

While the letters differed over the preferred pace of the transition and specific scientific issues, they were all broadly similar in their aims to protect old growth in the Tongass.

As a result, the letters should be 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,” Dominick DellaSala, the chief scientist of the Geos Institute, said in a news release.

Geos Iinstitute, which is a science-based nonprofit focused on climate preparedness, and the Society for Conservation Biology helped to publicize the letters.


Click here to see an online news article in CoastAlaska News. (Jan. 22, 2015)

Click here to see an online news article in Government Security News (Jan. 2015).

Click here to see an online article in (Jan. 2015).






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