More than 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, including large swaths of old-growth trees, would be opened to logging under a U.S. Forest Service proposal issued Oct. 15 that would exempt the entire forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule.
The draft plan offers six different alternatives for the future of one of North America’s most carbon-dense temperate rainforests, according to a Forest Service news release. The Forest Service’s preferred option is to drop roadless protections for the Tongass, as requested by the state of Alaska.
The Forest Service announced the draft plan Oct. 15, but the agency will make it available to the public on Oct. 18, Forest Service spokeswoman Babete Anderson said.
The proposal would remove 9.2 million acres from protection under the 2001 Roadless Rule and open to logging 165,000 acres of old growth forest that were considered unsuitable for timber harvesting.
Exempted From Protections
President Donald Trump in August directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the parent agency to the U.S. Forest Service, to exempt the Tongass from roadless protections, setting off for the agency to open the forest to logging.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a champion of opening the Tongass to tree cutting, said in a statement that she is pleased that the administration is proposing to drop roadless protections and provide “reasonable access” to the forest.
“This is important for a wide array of local stakeholders as we seek to create sustainable economies in Southeast Alaska,” said Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Environmentalists and Democrats said the proposal threatens the last remaining intact temperate forest in North America.
“Because of direct intervention from the White House, we are facing conservation setbacks within the Tongass that will affect more than half of the world’s largest temperate rainforest,” Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said in a statement.
“The fate of millions of trees in the world’s largest remaining temperate old-growth forest should not hinge on a backroom political deal between President Trump and the governor of Alaska,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said in a statement.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) has introduced a bill (H.R. 2491) that would codify the Roadless Rule into law.
“Tongass National Forest is not only a pristine national treasure, the largest intact temperate forest in the world, and a key part of local tourism and recreation economies—it is also one of our most effective tools to mitigate climate change for future generations,” Gallego said in a statement.
The Forest Service is taking public comment on the proposal until Dec. 17.