Tongass National Forest in Alaska gets more protections thanks to Biden

Date:

Tongass National Forest in Alaska gets more protections thanks to Biden

  • News by AUN News correspondent
  • Wednesday, February 01, 2023
  • AUN News – ISSN: 2949-8090

Summary:

  • But when former President Donald Trump got rid of a rule that said logging and building roads couldn’t happen on 9 million acres of land in the Tongass until 2020, the 66-year-old was worried about damage to the largest national forest in the US. According to Mr. Jackson, “the forest is essential to our survival as a people and our way of life… for thousands of years.

  • Over half of the Tongass will again be off-limits to logging and building roads to harvest timber, the government declared last Wednesday.

  • In a statement released this week, Republican Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski said that the Biden Administration’s plan to bring back protections would hurt the local economy and turn the Tongass into a political football.

  • In a statement, Senator Dan Sullivan said, “I will fight this decision with everything I have.”

  • Governor Mike Dunleavy called the USDA’s decision a “major blow for Alaskans.

Joel Jackson, president of the tribal organization Organized Village of Kake, has lived in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest his entire life. His neighborhood depends on the land for deer hunting and salmon fishing in streams kept cold by the old-growth forest.

But when former President Donald Trump got rid of a rule that said logging and building roads couldn’t happen on 9 million acres of land in the Tongass until 2020, the 66-year-old was worried about damage to the largest national forest in the US.

According to Mr. Jackson, “the forest is essential to our survival as a people and our way of life… for thousands of years.”

This week was a long-awaited victory for Mr. Jackson and the tribes and environmental groups that asked the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to bring back the protections for the forest.

Over half of the Tongass will again be off-limits to logging and building roads to harvest timber, the government declared last Wednesday.

The decision comes after a long debate between environmentalists, indigenous groups, and other groups who say the rule is essential for protecting the environment and Alaskan Republican officials who say the government has slowed economic growth and that renewing it will make it harder to connect remote communities by road.

The Tongass National Forest covers about 17 million acres, or almost as much space as the state of West Virginia, and is home to 44% of the nation’s national forests’ carbon dioxide reserves, according to the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

It is one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests that is still mostly unspoiled. It is home to Sitka spruce, cedar, and hemlock trees over 800 years old. These trees provide a habitat for more than 400 species of land and marine wildlife.

Environmental experts say that protecting the forest is the only way to maintain biodiversity and slow climate change.

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently said that the decision to stop logging and building roads in the Tongass was based on what people in Southeast Alaska and tribal nations had to say, as well as the importance of fishing and tourism to the region’s economy.

The safeguards, also referred to as “roadless rule” legislation, were first implemented in 2001 by the administration of former President Bill Clinton to preserve particular designated regions in US national forests from logging.

Following lobbying from Alaskan state officials in 2020, Mr. Trump removed the Tongass’ protections.

In a statement released this week, Republican Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski said that the Biden Administration’s plan to bring back protections would hurt the local economy and turn the Tongass into a political football.

In a statement, Senator Dan Sullivan said, “I will fight this decision with everything I have.” Governor Mike Dunleavy called the USDA’s decision a “major blow for Alaskans.”

Several nearby companies and organizations, though, expressed their disagreement.

The number of lumber jobs in the Tongass National Forest has decreased over the last three decades, according to Gordon Chew, a co-owner of the local small family-owned business Tenakee Logging Company. He said that this isn’t because of the roadless rule. Instead, he said, it’s because of other things, like the higher cost of gas for shipping wood from remote Alaska.

The roadless rule “enhances these things if you believe in global warming, understand the benefit of sequestering carbon, enjoy the fishing business, and encourage tourism,” he said.

According to Meredith Trainor, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the roadless rule has always been “controversial with Alaska politicians but not that contentious with the public.”

She said that it is “very important” to have the rule in place so that logging can’t start up again in these areas of uncut forests.

Even though Mr. Jackson liked the rule change, he said he wouldn’t feel safe until such protections were made permanent, which might need congressional approval.

He indicated that might be his upcoming conflict.

He added, “I compare entering the forest to entering one of the most magnificent churches you’ll ever find.” I don’t want to fight for that for my grandchildren or their grandchildren.

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