Trump Strips Protections from Tongass National Forest, Opening It To Logging

Alan Wu / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Flickr (cropped)

JakeThomas

President Trump's decision will open one of the largest intact temperate rainforests to logging and other development.

President Donald Trump is opening more than half of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to development, The Washington Post reports, which will strip two-decade long protections for one of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests.

As of Thursday, it will be legal for logging companies to build roads and cut and remove timber throughout more than 9.3 million acres of forest — featuring old-growth stands of red and yellow cedar, Sitka spruce and Western hemlock. The relatively-pristine expanse is also home to plentiful salmon runs and imposing fjords. The decision, which will be published in the Federal Register, reverses protections President Bill Clinton put in place in 2001 and is one of the most sweeping public lands rollbacks Trump has enacted.

  • Trump will make “an additional 188,000 forested acres available for timber harvest,” which The Post noted is mainly “old growth timber.”
  • Federal and academic scientists have long identified Tongass as a forest that serves as a massive carbon sink that also provides a key habitat for countless species, including Pacific salmon and trout.
  • Some of its trees are between 300 and 1,000 years old, and on the whole, Tongass absorbs at least 8 percent of all the carbon stored in the lower 48 states' forests combined.

“While tropical rainforests are the lungs of the planet, the Tongass is the lungs of North America,” Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist with the Earth Island Institute’s Wild Heritage project, said in an interview. “It’s America’s last climate sanctuary.”

  • Robert Venables, the executive director of the Southeast Conference, noted that Southeast Alaska’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, with the typical 1.4 million cruise ship passengers dropping to just 48 this summer.

“The economy is collapsing,” he said, adding that the Trump administration’s action might allow loggers to extract timber from some relatively accessible old-growth stands. “There’s some common-sense, near-term relief.”

But even Venables criticized the administration as going too far and predicted that the decision probably would be reversed next year if Democrats won the White House.

  • Per The Post, 96% of comments during the U.S. Forest Service’s environmental review were in opposition to the move, while just 1% of comments supported lifting the protections.
  • In addition,

Ninety-six percent of the comments during the U.S. Forest Service’s environmental review opposed lifting the existing safeguards, while 1 percent supported it. In a sign of how unpopular the administration’s push to lift roadless restrictions has become, all five Alaska Native tribal nations withdrew as cooperating agencies in the process two weeks ago, after the Forest Service published its blueprint for opening up the entire Tongass to development.

Read the full report.

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