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Ms. DeLAURO. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to this bill, which would result in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, our Nation's largest and wildest national forest, being opened to additional logging. At 17 million acres--roughly the size of West Virginia--the Tongass is the crown jewel of our forest system.
Mr. YOUNG of Alaska. Will the gentlelady yield?
Ms. DeLAURO. I would love to do that, dear colleague, but I can't. I need to be back in Appropriations.
Mr. YOUNG of Alaska. Seventeen million acres are set aside already.
The CHAIR. The gentlewoman from Connecticut controls the time.
Ms. DeLAURO. If the gentleman would just back off. Okay?
At 17 million acres--roughly the size of West Virginia--the Tongass is the crown jewel of our forest system. Along with the Chugach National Forest in Alaska, it boasts the world's most intact temperate rainforest, with centuries-old trees providing critical habitat for wolves, grizzly bears, wild salmon, bald eagles and other wildlife. The Tongass is also a vital piece of the tourism industry in Alaska, allowing visitors from around the world to take in a true environmental spectacle.
I have experienced the beauty of the Tongass firsthand when I got to travel through the forest on an old Navy minesweeper 10 years ago. It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to spoil such a perfect example of nature's magnificence, but the bill before us would do exactly that. It removes 100,000 acres of some of the most used and visited lands in southeast Alaska from public ownership and gives them to the Sealaska Corporation, who plans to clear-cut the vast majority of its land selections for timber. This is approximately 20,000 acres over Sealaska's legal entitlement under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement of 1971.
With 290,000 acres of land and an additional 560,000 acres of subsurface rights, Sealaska is already the largest private landholder in southeast Alaska. And after three decades of extensive and intensive logging, they have left a legacy of expansive clear-cuts of the lands they already own. If this bill passes, they will do the same to some of the most biologically and culturally valuable lands within the Tongass.
Over the last 50 years, this national forest has already lost 550,000 acres of old-growth trees and been marked by 5,000 miles of logging roads. This bill further threatens what is left of this national forest. It also endangers the economy of southeast Alaska by privatizing lands and waters that are used by guides and commercial fishermen, industries that employ over 17,000 men and women, 20 percent of the Alaskans in the region.
The Forest Service currently manages these lands for multiple uses and has announced a transition plan to ensure a sustainable future for the Tongass. We should not deliver this national treasure--and one of Alaska's most substantial tourism draws--over solely to one private corporation for timber rights.
I urge my colleagues to protect the Tongass for generations of Americans to come and to vote against this amendment.
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