As has been suggested recently, the Biden administration will go back to a previous protection plan to block logging in and around Southeast Alaska’s massive Tongass National Forest. Here’s more from the Washington Post:
The changes would mark a major shift for a region that has relied on felling massive trees for more than a century. The changes would also reverse one of former president Donald Trump’s biggest public land decisions and halt a significant source of future carbon emissions in the decade to come. The Tongass, part of one of the world’s last relatively intact temperate rainforests, is the only national forest where old-growth logging still takes place on an industrial scale.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the proposal would provide $25 million for community development, and allow Alaska Natives and small-scale operators to continue to harvest some old-growth trees. But Vilsack — who proposed a much more gradual transition away from old-growth logging when he was secretary under President Barack Obama — said it’s time to focus on other economic activities, including fishing, recreation and tourism.
“This approach will help us chart the path to long-term economic opportunities that are sustainable and reflect southeast Alaska’s rich cultural heritage and magnificent natural resources,” he said.
Here’s some reaction, starting with a statement from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership:
(Washington, D.C.) – The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated today’s news that the Forest Service will repeal the Roadless Rule exemption and restore conservation safeguards to 9.2 million acres of public land in Southeast Alaska. Paired with a commitment by USDA for new, robust investments in the region’s economic development, the decision was welcomed by local communities and various stakeholders as a balanced solution that promises a sustainable future for what is widely regarded as some of the richest fish and wildlife habitat in Alaska.
“Today’s development marks a major step toward restoring conservation safeguards and shifting to more sustainable forest management practices on the Tongass National Forest,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate this leadership by USDA, and look forward to the timely reinstatement of the Roadless Rule on the Tongass, which will conserve some of Alaska’s most productive fish and wildlife habitat while also allowing for community development projects and cultural uses.”
Roadless Rule protections were rolled back in 2020 despite overwhelming public opposition to the exemption.
The USDA is anticipated to outline several key steps it will take moving forward: ?
- The FS will start the process to repeal the Roadless Rule exemption and reinstate full protections under the 2001 Roadless Rule.
- The Tongass NF will end large-scale old-growth timber sales, but will allow Alaska Natives and small-scale operators to continue limited old-growth harvest.
- $25 million in new funding will be dedicated to community development projects that enhance recreation, restoration and resilience, including climate, wildlife habitat, and watershed improvements.
“The industries that contribute the most to Southeast Alaska’s economy—such as commercial fishing, recreation, and tourism—rely on the conservation of our remaining old-growth forests and watersheds within the Tongass,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s exciting to see the Forest Service invest in new strategies that align with the values and priorities of rural Alaskans. The TRCP is committed to helping the Forest Service manage the Tongass in a way that conserves vital fish and wildlife habitat, allows for sustainable second growth forest management, and boosts the resiliency of our communities.” ?
Update: Here’s Trout Unlimited’s statement:
JUNEAU, AK — The U.S. Forest Service announced today a new “Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy” for the Tongass National Forest. Details of the strategy include fully reinstating the 2001 roadless rule; ending large-scale old-growth logging on the Tongass and prioritizing restoration, recreation, and resiliency; and making significant new investments in projects that support sustainable economic growth. Trout Unlimited applauds the Forest Service’s decision to invest in conserving the natural resources of the Tongass.
“The real value of the Tongass is in its abundant fish and wildlife, its cultural resources, and in its beautiful scenery and wild landscapes,” said Austin Williams, Trout Unlimited’s Alaska director of law and policy. “This announcement will help ensure these values remain long into the future, that we are investing where we see the greatest return, and that management of the Tongass supports the region’s economic mainstays of fishing and tourism.”
Decades of industrial-scale logging have claimed many of the best and most productive trees on the Tongass. While just 12 percent of the productive old-growth forest on the Tongass has been cut, unsustainable clear-cut logging has removed 66.5 percent of the highest-volume contiguous old-growth forest. On Prince of Wales Island, where logging has been most intense, 93.8 percent of such forest is gone. Forest-wide, the spiderweb of logging roads has left of legacy of more than 1,100 culverts that fail to meet state or federal standards for fish migration and impede access to nearly 250 miles of salmon and trout stream. Yet, an October 2020, decision exempted the Tongass from the roadless rule, which opened the door to expanded industrial old-growth logging and construction of new logging roads on more than 9 million acres of the forest.
Reinstating the roadless rule and refocusing agency resources on restoration and recreation instead of large-scale, old-growth logging will support Southeast Alaska’s diversified economy and help conserve scarce forest resources. A healthy forest is integral to the local economy with fishing and tourism making up 1 in 4 of the region’s jobs and contributing $2 billion annually to the local economy. These jobs are dependent upon the flourishing fish and wildlife and scenic beauty that are quintessential to the Tongass.
“The Tongass is one of the last, best places for wild salmon left in North America and a globally significant resource for slowing the impacts of climate change,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Old-growth timber sales have long been notorious for losing money; reinstating the roadless rule and prioritizing restoration is an investment in the forest’s most valuable and lasting resources.
More than 96% of all public comments opposed the “Tongass Exemption” and supported keeping roadless area protections. A statewide?2019 poll?commissioned by Trout Unlimited found the majority of likely voters in Alaska opposed efforts to repeal the Roadless Rule and strongly supported efforts to protect salmon, wildlife, and high-value salmon streams in the Tongass.
“For far too long, our fish and wildlife were taken for granted on the Tongass,” said Williams. “It’s a breath of fresh air to see investments made to ensure they are around for future generations.”
The economic factors and public support make it clear – a healthy forest is what’s best for the wildlife, people and economy of Southeast Alaska.
Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest?coldwater?fisheries conservation organization, is dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams, so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local,?regional, and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed?policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy?waters?and vibrant communities. In Alaska, we work with sportsmen and women to ensure the state’s trout and salmon resources remain healthy far into the future through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau. Learn more about our work to conserve key areas of the Tongass National Forest at www.americansalmonforest.org
And now SalmonState:
JUNEAU—Today’s U.S. Forest Service announcement ending industrial-scale old growth logging, moving toward restoring Roadless Rule protections, and prioritizing the sustainable uses of the Tongass National Forest is a long-overdue move to shift management of America’s largest national forest into the 21st century.
“The Tongass is not only one of the few truly wild places left on the planet, it is vital to our path forward as we deal with climate change,” said SalmonState communications director Mary Catharine Martin. “We’re thrilled that this announcement recognizes how valuable the Tongass is, both to the people that live here and to the rest of the world.”
At 17 million acres, the Tongass is the largest national forest in the country. It is also an enormous carbon bank and reservoir, storing 44% of the carbonstored in all U.S. national forests. Some of its towering old growth cedar, spruce and hemlock trees are more than a thousand years old. The Tongass is home to a third of the world’s remaining old growth temperate rainforest, and most of the old growth remaining in the United States.
The 2001 Roadless Rule protected 9.2 million acres of the Tongass from clearcut logging and the roads it requires. The 2020 Trump Administration decision to strip those protections opened up those 9.2 million acres to clearcut logging and industrial development against the will of 96% of commentersand 90+% of rural subsistence commenters. Only 3% of the Tongass is large-tree old growth, which has long been targeted by clearcut logging operations. Those operations have been subsidized to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars by the American taxpayer, all while damaging salmon runs and habitat.
25% of the West Coast’s salmon catch comes from the Tongass National Forest. The remaining old growth habitat is essential for deer, brown bears, salmon and many other species, as well as to the Tongass’ economy: 26% of jobs in the region come from tourism or commercial fisheries, which are supported by the intact forest.
“Today’s announcement signals the end of the Tongass timber wars once and for all,” said Martin. “This bold and forward thinking move by the Forest Service allows all of us who love this forest and call it home to focus squarely on the future and leave the past behind.”
Tongass old-growth, second-growth, brown bear and scenic images are available for news organizations’ use here.
SalmonState works to keep Alaska a place wild salmon and the people who depend on them thrive.
And some social media reaction: