The Government Wants Your Opinion on Its Plan to Log Our Largest National Forest

The Tongass is the largest intact temperate rainforest … for now

The Tongass National Forest in Ketchikan, Alaska
The U.S. Forest Service is officially supporting a plan to open up all available area of the Tongass National Forest, even old-growth forest, to logging.

Back in July, we wrote about how the U.S. government was quietly trying to open our largest national forest to logging. That would be the Tongass, a 16.7 million-acre woodland featuring precious old-growth forest in Southeast Alaska, which also holds the designation of being “the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world.” But at the time, the proposal was in a holding pattern. Now, the Trump administration is making its deforestation mission clear.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service recommended opening up 9.2 million acres of the Tongass to logging and road building (as the Washington Post writes, 5.7 million acres are off limits). All of that land is currently protected under the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, but the Trump administration is now going on the record saying it wants to exempt Alaska from those protections and open the forest up for business.

Why is this happening? It’s been less than two months since there was a global outcry about the fires, and subsequent rainforest destruction, in the Amazon. Also in August, a new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasized that forests are essential for absorbing greenhouse gases, and that we should be reforesting areas, not deforesting, especially dwindling old-growth forests. The answer is, of course, all about money.

For example, let’s take Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s statement on the announcement in the New York Times: “I’m very pleased the administration has listened to Alaskans and is proposing a full exemption from the roadless rule as its preferred alternative.” When Murkowski says “Alaskans,” she’s talking about the “congressional delegation, which is all Republican members,” and the timber industry which currently provides under 1% of Southeastern Alaska’s jobs. As for general Alaskans, and other U.S. citizens who would be affected by the logging (well, the whole planet will be affected), the majority already opposed changing the Roadless Rule in 2018

But as the Times notes, this announcement from the Forest Service “was widely expected,” despite the public backlash. So where do we go from here? The final ruling on the matter isn’t expected until June 2020. Right now, we’re about to begin yet another public comment period.

The Forest Service has drafted an environmental impact statement with six courses of action, ranging from keeping Alaska under the Roadless Rule (and continuing to protect the Tongass) to exempting Alaska from the rule and removing 9.2 million acres (including 165,000 old-growth acres) from protection. The statement will be published by the U.S.F.S. this week, and the public has until midnight on December 17th to submit comments.

If you’re looking for the right words, listen to Natalie Dawson, Executive Director of Audubon Alaska, who told us this back in July: “The future of climate change adaptation strategies and mitigation will rely on carbon sequestration from forests like the Tongass.” The long-term future of people around the world depends on keeping areas like the Tongass intact, but the short-term political and financial interests of a few are currently deciding this forest’s fate.

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