Trump To Reopen Largest National Forest to Development, Rejecting Environmental and Cultural Importance

Graphic by Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

On Friday, just one day before National Public Lands Day, 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. About 55% of the forest is currently protected by the “Roadless Rule,” a law passed in 2001 by the Clinton administration, but after a revised environmental impact study by the Trump administration, the 25,000 square mile forest will be vulnerable to logging and development. 

Why This Matters: The Tongass National forest is often called “America’s Amazon” and absorbs about 8% of US carbon dioxide emissions. If developed for logging and industry, the US may lose this massive carbon sink, a resource environmentalists say is crucial in the fight against climate change

Andy Moderow of the Alaska Wilderness League explains, “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.” 

The timber industry and Alaskan government officials, including Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), say that developing the forest is imperative to growing the state’s economy and claim that only one percent of the forest would be impacted by the rule reversal. However, advocacy group Earthjustice has revealed that the Trump administration has worked with the State of Alaska as well as the logging industry to make it easier for old-growth forests to be logged. Environmentalists have cause for concern that opening pristine forest for logging development will harm precious ecosystems and sacred Indigenous land.  

The Logging Interest: This battle has been raging for years now; the administration has been met with resistance not only by green groups but by Indigenous people as well. The forest holds deep cultural importance to the Tlingit, whose members traveled to Washington, DC last year to speak out against the push to eliminate the “Roadless Rule.” As part of a delegation sponsored by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), the members told Congress, “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.” The Tlingit are not the only Indigenous people opposed to the development of the Tongass; in July, nine Alaskan tribes submitted a petition calling on the USDA to stop the rolling back of protections for the old-growth forest. 

Environmentalists express doubt that logging would indeed benefit the Alaskan economy. Timber accounts for only one percent of regional employment and jeopardizes fishing and tourism, which bring $2 billion per year to the region’s economy. Despite the decline in demand of Tongass timber throughout the late 1900s and one deficit that resulted in every 1,000 board feet of timber selling for less than the cost of a Big Mac, Alaskan Governor Mike Dunleavy and Senator Murkowski insist that logging the Tongass will be a boon to the Alaskan economy.

The logging of the Tongass forest would become part of a global loss in old-growth forests and carbon sinks. In the past 20 years, logging has removed over 800 million acres of forest, an area more than 47 times the size of the Tongass. Kim Heacox, an author, novelist, and photographer who has lived in Alaska for 40 years says, “Cutting down the Tongass, one of the best carbon sequestration forests in America, would be a crime.

Furthermore, we know that preserving mature forests is key to preserving biodiversity as well as fighting climate change. 

 

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