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Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest

Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest
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The Trump administration is teeing up plans to reverse a long-standing limit on logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

The draft environmental impact statement announced by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on Tuesday opens the door to land-use options that would significantly roll back protections currently in place in the country’s largest national forest.

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The proposed rule would open up nearly half of the 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest to logging by removing it entirely from a 2001 Clinton-era regulation known as the “Roadless Rule.” The rule established prohibitions on road construction and timber harvesting across 58.5 million acres of roadless lands in the National Forest System.

Under the Trump administration’s proposed changes, the 9.2 million acres of inventoried roadless land in the Tongass forest would once again be considered suitable timber lands. The forest yields 165,000 acres of old growth trees and 20,000 acres of new growth trees, according to the agency.

The draft environmental impact statement will be submitted to the Federal Register later this week, according to the USFS.

President Trump first directed Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueSonny PerdueThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Georgia election day is finally here; Trump hopes Pence 'comes through for us' to overturn results Civil war between MAGA, GOP establishment could hand Dems total control Trump administration races to finish environmental rules, actions MORE to lift the restrictions on the Tongass under the “Roadless Rule” earlier this month, The Washington Post reported in August.

Several Alaskan lawmakers have long sought an exemption to the rule in the area, arguing it would be a boost to the local economy.

The Post reported that multiple conversations between Trump and Alaska Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy (R) played a part in the administration's decision to change the rule.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiNew super PAC aims to support lawmakers who voted to impeach or convict Trump Kinzinger: GOP 'certainly not united' on 'vision for the future' Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents MORE (R-Alaska) said in a statement to the Post that the rule “should never have been applied to our state” and added that it is “harming our ability to develop a sustainable, year-round economy for the Southeast region, where less than one percent of the land is privately held.” 

“The timber industry has declined precipitously, and it is astonishing that the few remaining mills in our nation’s largest national forest have to constantly worry about running out of supply,” she added.

Nearly 6 million acres of the Tongass forest is designated as wilderness by Congress, and will remain off limits.

Several other lawmakers blasted the decision Tuesday.

 Republican Rep. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoProgressives fume over Senate setbacks More than 0K raised for Ohio mom arrested for leaving kids alone at motel to work GoFundMe set up for mother arrested after leaving kids alone while at work MORE, a subcommittee chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the decision would open the forest to "clear-cutting."

“The administration’s rushed and reckless plan to allow clear-cutting and road-building in huge swaths of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest will cause harm for generations to come,” Gallego said in a statement. “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. 
Senator Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellRegulators keep close eye on Facebook's deal with Australia Video stirs emotions on Trump trial's first day Airlines warn of new furloughs without more federal aid MORE (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee called the decision a victim of a "backroom political deal."

“We need to protect the Tongass so that future generations can continue to benefit from the clean air and water and the 10,000 sustainable jobs this ancient ecosystem provides. The vast majority of Americans want to see the Tongass protected and I am optimistic the courts will once again overturn the administration’s scientifically shoddy environmental review process.” 

Rebecca Klar contributed.