Alaska’s Tongass National Forest has been protected from most commercial logging since the Clinton administration — and with good reason. As one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world, it’s an ecological treasure, an important carbon sink, and essential to the livelihood of Alaska Native communities who rely on hunting, fishing, and wild harvest as a matter of survival.
As of yesterday, though, it is now legal for logging companies to build roads in the Tongass that will enable them to clear-cut old-growth trees. Technically, this is a new federal policy. In reality, like virtually all Trump administration rollbacks, it’s senseless, autocratic vandalism. How, exactly, did the administration reach the decision to revoke the Roadless Rule in the Tongass?
In spite of the fact that 96 percent of public comments opposed it.
In spite of the fact that the Alaska tribes who depend on the Tongass weren’t properly consulted and opposed revoking the rule. The administration acknowledged receipt of a petition for a Tribal Roadless Rule on the Tongass and then completely ignored it.
And in spite of the fact that logging in the Tongass actually costs US taxpayers — to the tune of approximately $1.7 billion over the past four decades. That’s because of a federal mandate that all logging in the Tongass must be profitable. That means the US Forest Service often ends up covering the cost of destroying the forest, including road building.
But then facts have never been popular with the Trump administration.
Because of this administration’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy in southeast Alaska is hurting, just as it is in the rest of the US. But destroying the irreplaceable forest that supports that economy is exactly the wrong way to address that problem. In recent years, the visitor industry and seafood-related jobs have accounted for 26 percent of jobs and generated an annual $1 billion economic benefit for the area. The timber industry presently provides less than 1 percent of jobs in southeast Alaska.
Opening the Tongass also sets a dangerous precedent when it comes to responsible management of our national forests, which store the equivalent of seven times US annual carbon emissions. Protecting them — and the rest of our public lands — will be key to avoiding climate catastrophe. And yet more logging occurs in US forests than in any other nation in the world, making us the largest global problem in terms of carbon emissions from logging.
Twenty years ago, in response to strong public pressure, the Forest Service launched the most comprehensive rulemaking process in our history, ultimately protecting wild, roadless areas like the Tongass across the country. The Trump administration has now undone that with zero regard for public opinion, the rights of Native tribes, or common sense.