Obama Approves Logging in Biggest US Rainforest - Is the Green Honeymoon Over?


Photo via Change

It had to happen eventually, I suppose--Obama eventually had to make a move that would anger environmentalists across the board. Sure, some were already concerned with his lack of involvement in climate action, and others were calling for him to do more about issues like mountaintop removal mining. But now, the Obama administration has made a clear cut decision (O bad puns, how I love thee) that's going to piss off greens of all stripe--it approved a logging contract in a roadless national forest. One that just so happens to be the biggest rain forest in the US.Remember when all those talking heads on cable news networks were declaring that 'the honeymoon is over', like 4 days after he took office? It was ridiculous then, but now, for environmentalists, it looks like that could indeed be the case.

The New York Times recently ran a piece about how disillusioned environmentalists were turning on Obama for being too soft and compromising too easily when it came to making progress on climate change (see: the weak Waxman-Markey Bill, the hardly productive G8 climate talks). The likes of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and even my colleague Matthew McDermott have called on Obama to be the leader on climate issues he built himself up to be during the 2008 presidential campaign.

And this could be another crucial blow. From the Huffington Post:

This week, the Obama administration approved the sale of timber in a roadless national forest in Alaska. The Tongass National Forest is a 17 million acre temperate rain forest in southeast Alaska, which is home to both endangered species and native Alaskan tribes. It is the largest temperate rain forest in the United States.
Even though the logging contract isn't that big, relative to the norm--it allows 4.4 million board feet of timber to be clear cut, according to the Juneau Empire--it's significant because it appears Obama has reneged on a key green issue he supported during his campaign. Obama said he was in favor of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which was put in place during the Clinton era, and banned road building in 58 million acres of national forest across the country. But the Obama administration has been reviewing the rule, which Bush had often ignored. From the Empire:
the Orion North timber sale is the first such awarded since Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced in May he would personally review all timber sales in roadless areas of national forests in the next year. Tongass environmental activists had been hoping Vilsack's announcement would translate to a temporary moratorium on timber road-building in roadless areas, including Orion North and three other timber sales on the Tongass. President Obama supported the roadless rule in his campaign.
And now? Roads.
Contractors have already built about a mile of the 6.9 miles that are to be built for the sale. Another 1.9 miles of old roads will be rebuilt for the 381-acre clear-cut, according to Tongass spokeswoman Erin Uloth.
So. Perhaps the green honeymoon is over, and we're facing the fact that Obama's no ardent environmental activist. Cheering on plans for high speed rail or investment in renewable energy isn't going to cut it anymore--we're going to have to start putting pressure on the Obama administration by holding him accountable for campaign promises, staying vocal about his missteps (like this one), and maybe hanging a banner or two over Mt. Rushmore. He's still on the right track, and the majority of his green ideas are encouraging. But it won't suffice to simply have Obama talk green--even if it is ever so eloquently.

More on Obama's Green Ideas:
Obama Timeline: First 100 Days of Green
Guide to the Green Projects in Obama's Economic Stimulus Bill

Tags: Barack Obama | Conservation | Economics