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More than 60 Democrats ask feds to reconsider Tongass logging plan

More than 60 Democrats ask feds to reconsider Tongass logging plan
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More than 60 Democrats are asking Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueFederal judge strikes down Trump's cuts on food stamps for unemployed EU's 'farm to fork' demands could mean indigestion for US food exporters Baldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak MORE to reconsider a plan that would open up previously protected parts of the Tongass National Forest to logging. 

The Forest Service issued a final environmental impact statement (FEIS) last month laying out its intention to open up more than 9 million Tongass acres to the timber industry. 

The move doesn’t allow logging at this time in the Alaska forest, which scientists say mitigates climate change by storing more carbon than any other forest in the country, but it brings the administration one step closer to an official approval. 

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In their letter, the 60 lawmakers from both the House and the Senate said that the Forest Service didn’t properly consult with tribes that live in the forest. 

“The United States Forest Service (USFS) denied native Tribes in Southeast Alaska their requests for the agency to hold face-to-face, government-to-government consultations and subsistence hearings prior to finalizing the FEIS,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“In consideration of the health and welfare concerns of tribal villages the agency should have postponed work on the Final Environmental Impact Statement until it was safe to hold such meetings,” they added. 

The FEIS lists nearly 30 native tribes and corporations as part of a section titled “List of Document Recipients and Those Notified or Consulted” but later says that just six tribes worked with the Forest Service and provided input. 

An Agriculture Department spokesperson said in an email to the The Hill that the Forest Service and department “have heard from a wide variety of individuals and groups and understand that opinions and preferences vary regarding how roadless areas within the Tongass National Forest should be managed and conserved.” 

“The required 30-day waiting period will provide time for the Secretary to consider the purpose and need, weigh the alternatives, balance objectives, and issue a record of decision on the application of a Final Rule to the Tongass National Forest,” the spokesperson said. 

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The Democrats, meanwhile, also argued that the document didn’t fully analyze the impacts of the decision.  

“The Tongass would rightly be managed as America’s climate forest because of the Tongass’ critical capacity for carbon storage and climate change mitigation. The protection of these lands for their conservation value also supports healthy populations of salmon and other wildlife essential to the people of the region,” the legislators wrote. 

Opening up the 9.37-million-acre area would be done by providing an exemption to the 2001 "roadless rule," which prevents road construction as well as timber harvesting in the National Forest System in areas without existing roads. 

In 2018, the state of Alaska asked the federal government to open up the area to logging, arguing that it would help support the economy.