On National Public Lands Day we turn our focus to Alaska and the Tongass National Forest in Southwest Alaska which is being targeted by the Trump administration. The final environmental impact statement issued on September 25th by the Department of Agriculture and Forest Service clears the way for these forests to be dissected by logging roads and the clear cutting of the Tongess. It also sets a dangerous precedent for other forests across the country.
Ninety-six percent of the public comments urge the government to save the old growth forests in the Tongass and preserve Alaska’s Roadless Rule protections.
Nonetheless, the Department of Agriculture recommended granting a “full exemption” from the 2001 Roadless Rule. The Tongass comprises 9.37 million acres making it the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest and America’s largest national forest. It provides habitat for wolves, northern goshawks, and five different salmon species—it’s also tremendously important to the fight against the climate crisis. The Tongass, like all forests, is an essential carbon sink holding an estimated 8 percent of all carbon stored in U.S. national forests. The trees and soil in the Tongass sequester more carbon dioxide—more, acre-for-acre, than the Amazon rainforest.
“The Tongass alone stores more than 400 million metric tons of CO2 and sequesters an additional 3 million metric tons annually, equivalent to taking nearly 650,000 cars off the road each year,” Andy Moderow of the Alaska Wilderness League told NPR adding “we should be focused on what kind of world we leave to our kids.”
The logging plan for the Tongass National Forest could also cause irreversible ecological damage including streams where salmon spawn and hunting grounds for Indigenous Alaskans.
“Forests are our guardians in our fight against the climate crisis, and we need forest protections more than ever if we are to avoid the worst impacts of the growing climate emergency,” Greenpeace USA’s Amy Moas said in a statement. “Greenlighting logging, road building, and other destructive development in previously untouched portions of our national forests will be catastrophic for our future — both increasing pollution and limiting our ability to reduce it.”
Alaska’s Republican elected officials including Gov. Michael Dunleavy and the state’s congressional delegation, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, have supported a full exemption for the Roadless Rule,
The rule change, which could go into effect after a 30-day period. However, if as many expect, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is elected, he could reverse the decision.