The Trump administration is rolling back key environmental protections, allowing logging companies to build roads through more than nine million acres of Alaska’s untouched wilderness. Starting Thursday, it will be legal for loggers to cut and remove timber throughout the Tongass National Forest, which covers much of southeast Alaska.
It’s the largest national forest in the country, home to the native old-growth red and yellow cedar, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock. For nearly 20 years it’s been one of the world’s most intact temperate rainforests, and its trees — some up to a thousand years old — absorb far more carbon than any other national forest.
The new policy reverses protections put in place by President Clinton.
According to a notice posted by the Department of Agriculture, a significant percentage of the Tongass National Forest remains undeveloped, providing for large, extensive tracts of undeveloped land. The final rule will make an additional 188,000 forested acres available for timber harvest with the majority characterized as old-growth timber.
Reports indicate logging in the forest in recent years has actually cost taxpayers money since it costs the US Forest Service more to administer than the timber nets in sales. Moreover, according to the Forest Service, 96 percent of public comments received on the government’s proposal last fall were negative, and opposed to the removal of these protections.
The tribal nations of Alaska have spoken out against this move, withdrawing from negotiations two weeks ago when the Forest Service revealed its plans for opening up the forest to development.
In an October 13 letter to agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue, tribal leaders wrote, “We refuse to endow legitimacy upon a process that has disregarded our input at every turn. It became clear at the very end that the game had already been fixed.”
The lifting of protections will also likely affect tourism to the area, as the pristine nature of the forest — which was attractive to tourists — is now in jeopardy.