The Biden administration has filed its proposal to reinstate protections for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. It represents a major step to reverse a rule from former President Trump that allowed logging in large swaths of the forest.
The long-expected move would shield more than 9 million acres. The proposal seeks to reinstate the ban on logging and road construction in parts of the forest for what the White House says is a combination of cultural, social, ecologic and economic reasons.
The White House proposal points to the forest’s role in keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and its support for biodiversity.
The forest is considered to be a major carbon sink — meaning it sucks up more of the gas than it emits, helping to mitigate climate change. In fact, it stores more carbon than any other forest in the country, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposal before the Biden administration can finalize it, but the White House has long indicated that it would seek to restore the restrictions.
The protections were first promulgated in 2001 in the Clinton administration in what became known as the ‘Roadless Rule,’ which prevented logging on a total of over 58 million acres across various Forest Service lands.Opponents, including the state of Alaska, have long sought an exemption for the Tongass.
In exempting the Tongass last year, the Trump administration argued that its action would only have a “modest difference in potential environmental consequences.” It said that only 186,000 more acres would actually become available for timber harvesting, and that over the next 100 years, it would lead to about 50 extra miles of additional road construction.
The Biden administration says that reinstating the protections for the rule would bolster tourism and fishing in the region.