President Donald Trump’s administration has moved to open up parts of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to logging.
The U.S. Forest Service recently issued a final environmental impact statement laying out its plan to open up more than 9 million Tongass acres to the timber industry.
The move does not allow logging immediately, but it moves the administration a step closer to official approval. The Forest Service has proposed exempting the Tongass from the 2001 “roadless rule,” which prevents road construction and timber harvesting on national forests in areas without existing roads.
Supporters of the exemption see it as increasing access to federal lands for such things as timber harvests and development of minerals and energy projects.
Alaskan Republican leaders have lobbied the federal government to reverse the rule the past two years. In a Washington Post op-ed published last year, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, wrote that the regulations were “an unnecessary layer of paralyzing regulation that should never have been applied to Alaska.” Under former governor Bill Walker, the state asked the federal government to consider the exemption in 2018, and members of
Alaska’s congressional delegation last fall supported a draft proposal that listed an ex-
emption as a preferred alternative.
More than 60 Democrats have asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to reconsider the proposal. In a letter to Perdue, the House and the Senate Democrats said the Forest Service did not properly consult with Indian tribes that live in the forest.
However, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said the agency and the Forest Service “have heard from a wide variety of individuals and groups and understand that opinions and preferences vary regarding how roadless areas within the Tongass National Forest should be managed and conserved.”
“The required 30-day waiting period will provide time for the Secretary to consider the purpose and need, weigh the alternatives, balance objectives, and issue a record of decision on the application of a Final Rule to the Tongass National Forest,”
said the spokesman.
The final environmental impact statement lists nearly 30 native tribes and corporations that have been notified or consulted about the proposal, although only six tribes provided input to the Forest Service. Of course, environmental organizations opposed the move and denounced it.
According to critics, the move could adversely affect wildlife, fuel the climate crisis and hurt tourism and recreation opportunities. The sprawling wilderness is also an important source of salmon for the billion-dollar commercial fishing industry. “This administration has opted to take the road well traveled by continuing to spend tens of millions of dollars every year to expand logging roads for a dying old-growth timber industry,” said Andy Moderow, a director for the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement. “This is bad for people, bad for a sustainable economy and bad for wildlife.”
Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the move could pour “gasoline on the inferno of climate change.” “These towering ancient trees take enormous amounts of carbon out of the air and we need them now more than ever,”
Spivak added. “We’ll do everything possible to keep these magnificent giants standing for centuries to come.”
The trees in the Tongass National Forest are said to absorb roughly 8 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution coming from the U.S.