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The Biden administration has announced that it will “replace or repeal” a Trump rollback of the Clinton-Era “roadless rule” in the Tongass National Forest. The roadless rule protected 9.4 million acres of the forest, prohibiting road construction and timber harvesting.
The Trump administration rolled back the rule in October 2020 to ease the path for developers and logging operations.
The move was part of a series of last-ditch efforts by the former President to open the nation’s protected lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and two national monuments in Utah, to industry.
Why This Matters: The Trump administration spent years targeting the Tongass National Forest, the U.S.’s largest national forest and one of the world’s most extensive temperate rain forests. The Tongass is crucial to meeting the goals of the Paris agreement because it acts as a carbon sink, absorbing about 8% of the nation’s carbon emissions. Unfortunately, development in the region also threatens Indigenous communities that live near and rely on the Tongass for their way of life.
Trump’s rollbacks prompted Alaskan Tribes to petition the forest service for increased Tribal consultation. Restoring these protections tackles two of the Biden administration’s promises: protecting 30% of all lands by 2030 and prioritizing marginalized communities and Indigenous sovereignty.
Out of Business: The original roadless rule was finalized in the last days of the Clinton administration and covered 58.5 million acres of national forests, including the Tongass’s 9.3 million acres. Since then, the rule has faced opposition from many conservatives, and President Bush held several timber sales in the region during his administration.
But environmental advocates and Alaska’s tourism industry say that the roadless rule is essential to protecting the earth, local communities, and the state’s economy. The region has a thriving fishing industry, but the cruise ship industry has wavered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, local tourism leaders say that they need the Tongass now more than ever. “Beautiful wild places are Alaska’s competitive advantage in the adventure tourism market,” said Alaska Seaplane Adventures manager Dan Kirkwood.
This decision is one of several recent restorative moves by the Biden administration and wins for Alaska environmentalists. This month, the administration suspended oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife preserve. The U.S. Army corps of engineers also rejected a proposal for a gold mining project in the region, which was also dealt a fatal blow when local Tribes sold nearby surface land rights to a conservation organization.
Advocates are hopeful this streak will continue with the return of the roadless rule.
“We’re encouraged that the Forest Service under Biden will revisit the previous administration’s ill-conceived and politically motivated plan to auction off the Tongass to the highest bidder,” said Earthjustice Attorney Kate Glover. “Placing intact areas of this majestic temperate rainforest off-limits to industrial logging would benefit Alaska Native people who have always lived here, recreational small businesses, fishermen, visitors, and wildlife. And we encourage the administration to go further.”
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