Another Forest, This Time Alaska’s Tongass, May Be Destroyed—All for Profit

On October 28, 2020, the Trump administration announced it will open the state’s pristine old-growth rainforest—the largest in the United States—to the logging industry.

Alpine pond in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

Credit: Joseph/Flickr

The Trump administration is moving to open the state’s pristine old-growth rainforest—the largest in the United States—to the logging industry.

UPDATE: On October 28, 2020, President Trump’s U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it will open up Tongass National Forest to development and extraction, stripping all 16.7 million acres of existing protections. “We’ve fought for decades to protect the Tongass, and we’ll keep on suing if that’s what it takes to fend off this outrageous move.” —Niel Lawrence, Alaska director and senior attorney 

Today the U.S. Forest Service announced it will be seeking public comment on a draft environmental impact statement (expected later this week) for its plan to open up protected areas of Alaska’s old-growth Tongass rainforest to logging and road-building.

“As a global climate crisis demands that we take urgent conservation and climate-mitigation measures, the Trump administration wants to do the opposite—and lay waste to some of our country’s most unspoiled wildlands that absorb massive amounts of carbon,” says Niel Lawrence, Alaska director for NRDC.

The Tongass stores more carbon per acre than almost any other forest on the planet, which makes preserving it a matter of real urgency in the fight against climate change.

The Forest Service’s plan is expected to weaken the long-standing Roadless Rule, adopted to protect more than 58 million acres of untouched public forest lands across the country and helped throttle-back decades of fast-paced clearcutting in the Tongass. America’s largest national forest, the 17-million-acre Tongass is home to species like wild Pacific salmon, the Alexander Archipelago wolf, and many others that depend on its majestic old growth forests. So, too, do local Indigenous communities, who rely on these pristine lands for traditional hunting, gathering, and cultural practices. Roadless areas of the Tongass are key to sustaining customary and traditional use of forest and streams by Native Alaskans.

“The Roadless Rule shields these magnificent natural resources from chainsaws and bulldozers,” Lawrence says. More than 1.5 million Americans supported the Roadless Rule at the time of its adoption in 2001, and it continues to be broadly supported in Alaska. 

Destroying parts of the Tongass would also hurt the economy, as the wildlands support the region’s robust tourism, commercial fishing, and outdoor recreation sectors. With the Forest Service’s new plan, only a small number of logging-related jobs benefit—in an industry that currently exports 90 percent of timber directly to international markets, supporting no local processing jobs.

“We won’t allow the Trump administration to destroy the Roadless Rule—or that progress—in another taxpayer-subsidized handout to its friends in industry,” Lawrence says.

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