President Trump issued a notice removing protections from half of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest against timber sales and logging roads, a move that would open 9.3 million acres of the country’s largest national forest.
There are many reasons to protect the Tongass from deforestation. For starters, this thriving temperate rainforest ecosystem supports the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples and provides habitat to brown bears, all five species of Pacific salmon, wolves, Sitka black-tailed deer, and countless bird species.
And as part of the planet’s most important forest carbon storage network, the Tongass is crucial to mitigating climate change. With many of its trees between 300 and 1,000 years old, the Tongass by itself stores as much as 8 percent of the amount of carbon found in all the forests growing in the Lower 48 combined. Logging would not only remove carbon-rich old-growth trees but it would also disrupt the soil, which stores huge amounts of carbon. Once released into the atmosphere, that carbon cannot be recovered for centuries, if ever.
Trump’s decision would exempt the Tongass from the nationwide Roadless Rule instituted in 2001 by President Clinton, whose landmark executive order protected 58.5 million acres of national forest across the United States. Years of public consultation and comment went into the careful crafting of the Roadless Rule, and it has survived nearly two decades of constant legal assault by timber interests. But the rule—and the Tongass—now faces the most dangerous moment in its history.
To make matters even worse, taxpayers have to cover certain expenses of the logging companies that are pushing into the Tongass, which means we will be paying the timber industry to destroy one of our greatest natural treasures.
Trump’s rollback will doubtless face legal challenges, just as a similar attempt by the George W. Bush administration did when the Keex’ Kwaan tribe of Kake, Alaska, spearheaded a successful case that NRDC and Earthjustice litigated up to the Supreme Court. Here’s hoping Trump’s regulatory compliance is as shoddy as most of his team’s other legal work.