Trump Officially Strips Protection for America’s Largest National Forests

Image: Mike/Flickr

We wrote several weeks ago that the Trump administration moved to expand development in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States, as well as the largest remaining temperate rainforest in the world. Regrettably, the administration went ahead with the worst-case scenario in its aim to dismantle protections for this crucial ecosystem.

According to CBS News, in a notice released last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it has decided to exempt 9.4 million acres of the Tongass from the so-called roadless rule, protections that ban road construction and timber harvests with limited exceptions. The move was done without consultation from Native American tribes and is vehemently opposed by Alaska’s salmon fishermen.

Why This Matters: Along with removing endangered species protection from grey wolves, this is a final move by the administration before the election to delve favors to industries that have worked to undo environmental protections like logging and ranching. It’s the most significant public land rollback enacted by the least environmentally-friendly administration in modern history.

Go Deeper: We recommend this op-ed from a professor of environmental studies at Knox College in Illinois and a young fisherman out of Sitka, Alaska, who explain that removing protections for the Tongass will have reverberations for jobs across the country but would spell more than $2 billion per year commercial fishing and tourism industry within the state.

Removing the Roadless Rule: The 2001 Roadless Rule establishes prohibitions on road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvesting on 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands.

  • The intent of the 2001 Roadless Rule is to provide lasting protection for inventoried roadless areas within the National Forest System in the context of multiple-use management.

However, as Smithsonian Magazine wrote for the last two years, lawmakers have sought to exempt it from the rule, despite pushback from conservation groups and public comments that overwhelmingly favored keeping the rule in place. 

Juliet Eilpern explained in her piece for the Washington Post that the new Trump rule states that it will make “an additional 188,000 forested acres available for timber harvest,” mainly “old growth timber.”

As Wes Siler of Outside Online explained, “published without comment or fanfare, in a possible attempt to influence Alaska’s Senate election, the rule works against the express desire of citizens to create a corporate welfare program that targets marginalized communities while destroying the environment.”

Siler further explained that China sets to heavily benefit from logging in the Tongass:

  • China, which uses lumber made affordable by American taxpayer subsidies to fuel its booming construction industry and to produce furniture and other consumer goods it exports to America, and other markets.
  • A 2016 report created by the USDA stated that the percentage of lumber produced in the Tongass and exported to China was “over 90 percent in both 2005 and 2011.”

Importance of the Tongass: The Tongass is the largest national forest and one of the most important forests in the world (as the Ag Department itself says). It contains some of the last surviving old-growth temperate rainforests in North America and is home to numerous species of endangered wildlife and is very important to several native tribes.  As the Tlingit tribal members said last fall, “If you destroy the Tongass Forest if you destroy the ecosystem, the salmon, the rivers, the trees, you also are committing cultural genocide against indigenous people because they are the land the land is them.”

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