The US Forest Service announced plans today to lift restrictions on development and logging within Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. We reported back in August that the White House was floating the idea, but with today’s announcement from the USFS, the plan has become official. A draft environmental impact statement will be filed this week and once it is, a 60-day public comment period will be opened. Any development and logging in the region would require an exemption from the 2001 Roadless Rule that, as of now, bars such actions in the forest.
Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States, and the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America, covering nearly 17 million acres. It’s home to sprawling stands of ancient old-growth trees. 5.7 million acres of Tongass have been declared a federally protected wilderness by Congress and can’t be developed no matter what. It’s critical habitat for embattled salmon populations, as well as brown bears, among many other species.
“This ecologically rich landscape and critical wildlife habitat will be lost forever if industry is allowed to clear-cut our national forest,” said a spokesperson with Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group.
The Washington Post is reporting that the decision was handed down by President Trump at the request of Alaskan officials, including Governor Dunleavy. The state’s entire Congressional delegation also reportedly approves of the decision, with hopes that logging will boost the local economy. Currently, timber production in the area accounts for less than one percent of jobs in Southeast Alaska, where Tongass is located.
This announcement comes on the heels of a report issued last week by Taxpayers for Common sense that what logging does take place in Tongass has lost $600 million over the last 20 years, citing figures released by the Government Accountability Office. Polling indicates that most Americans, 61 percent, support the Roadless Rule protections, and 60 percent of Alaskans in Southeast Alaska want to see the Roadless Rule continue to prevent increased logging.
Once the report is entered into the Federal Registry, the public will be able to make comments. This article will be updated with the website that will handle comments once it is available, as well as other related news.
Photo: Alan Wu