In Alaska's Tongass National Forest, Biden banned roads and logging - Liberty

Monday, November 13, 2023

In Alaska's Tongass National Forest, Biden banned roads and logging


Fishing with a grizzly mother and her cubs in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. Ron Niebruge/Alamy

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it has banned logging and road building in about 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska, ending a 20-year battle.

The new rule restores protections to the pristine Alaskan backcountry, first imposed in 2001 but removed by President Donald J. Trump in 2020.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the initiative will help protect cedar, hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees over 800 years old and will cover 400 wild species, including bald eagles, salmon, and the world's largest wild animals. It provides an essential habitat for life—a concentration of black bears. Towering trees also play an important role in the fight against climate change. According to the government, more than 10% of the carbon accumulated in US national forests is stored in forests.

In addition to the road-building ban, which is the first step in new logging, the US Forest Service plan will also end large-scale logging of old timber in 16 million acres of forest.

“The Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in our country and the world's largest pristine temperate rainforest is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis,” Virsak said in a statement.

Dubbed the "Amazon of America," the Tongass National Forest is attracting intense interest from state and local leaders who say it needs to be mined to create jobs and strengthen Alaska's economy. It also has its headquarters. Collecting.

The forest's cedar, hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees provide essential habitats for hundreds of wildlife species. Jaynes Gallery/Danita Delimont, via Alamy

Alaska Republican Senator Dan Sullivan called the rule "overly burdensome" and accused the Biden administration of damaging the state's economy, saying he would retaliate by blocking presidential candidates. I said.

In his statement, Mr. Sullivan said, "I have repeatedly pleaded with Secretary of State Vilsak to work with us and not lock down the state." To keep candidates as relevant as possible, we oppose decisions such as: ”

The state's Republican governor, Mike Dunleavy, said in a statement that the final rule was a "huge loss for Alaskans" and accused the Biden administration of unfairly treating his state.

Juneau attorney Jim Clark, who has worked with industry and state officials to keep Tongass out of the protections that apply to much of the national forest system, told the Biden administration that building some roads would not be economical. Profits matter, he said. It can be achieved without harming the ecosystem. He said the national forest is about the size of West Virginia and can accommodate what he described as limited infrastructure.

In 2008, the US Geological Survey discovered 148 deposits in the area. State leaders insist that the latest research must be completed before new restrictions are imposed so that governments and citizens are fully aware of the economic potential they may lose. gain.

The number of jobs associated with the lumber industry in southeastern Alaska, near the Tongass National Forest, fell from 3,543 in 1991 to 312 in 2022. This is the lowest level of timber employment ever recorded. According to the Southeast Conference, the regional economic development agency.

Timber industry executives said years of restrictions imposed by Democrats had forced lumber companies out of the area.

Tessa Axelson, executive director of the Alaska Forestry Association, which represents timber companies in Southeast Alaska, said the industry was "disappointed, but not surprised" by the rule. We cannot survive without investment from SMEs and this announcement further threatens an already volatile environment for operators,” she said.

Democrats and Republicans have fought over Tongass for decades. Environmentalists, some Indigenous peoples, and Democrats are fighting to protect the forests, while Republicans, timber companies, and mining executives advocate their exploitation.

A group of tribal leaders in Southeast Alaska released a statement praising the rule. They said the government was demonstrating a commitment to "addressing the climate crisis and ultimately listening to the tribes in the Southeast who continue to be most affected by climate change."

The decision is the latest in a series of moves by the Biden administration to reverse Trump's actions to promote fossil fuel development and mineral extraction on public lands. Last month, the Biden administration extended protections to rivers, swamps, and waterways that the Trump administration had sought to abolish. issued a new directive to evaluate.

A humpback whale near the border of the Tongass National Forest. Alamy

They have argued that allowing road construction could devastate vast wilderness areas of snow-capped mountains, rapid-flowing rivers, and virgin forests.

"This is great news for forests, salmon, wildlife, and people who depend on intact ecosystems for their livelihoods and livelihoods," said Kate Glover, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, in a statement.

Forestry officials said about 112,000 comments came from tribes, rural areas, and others affected by the rule, most of whom wanted to ban roads in the forest. understood.

The Tongass National Forest accounts for about 9% of the total land in the national forest system, but about 16% of the roadless forest area. Most of it is virgin forest.

Conservation biologist Dominic DeLaSala, who studies Tongus, called it "amazing" and noted that most of the old trees in the 48 contiguous states were cut decades ago.

The new plan also includes his $25 million federal spending on regional sustainable development in Alaska for projects to improve forest health.