Trump administration finalizes plan to open up protected areas of Tongass National Forest to logging
The Trump administration has finalized a plan to open previously protected areas of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to logging.
The 9.37 million acre area was previously protected under the 2001 roadless rule, which prevents road construction as well as timber harvesting without roads in the National Forest System, but the new environmental impact assessment brings the administration one step closer to exempting it from those protections.
Issuing the final environmental impact assessment doesn’t officially put the plan in motion, but it sets the stage for the administration to put forth a record of decision doing just that.
The Tongass National Forest is a major carbon sink, meaning its trees soak up carbon from the atmosphere, lessening the impacts of climate change. The Forest Service found in 2016 that it stores more carbon than any other forest in the country.
Critics expressed concern that opening the Tongass up to logging will lessen its ability to do so.
“The Tongass National Forest contains centuries-old trees that provide home to wildlife and play a key role in storing carbon which mitigates climate change. The administration’s quest to open up nine million acres of this pristine forest to be clear cut would be an ecological atrocity,” said Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, in a statement.
“This extreme proposal will harm a stunning array of wildlife, threaten wild salmon populations, and undermine local economies that depend on a vibrant outdoor recreation industry,” O’Mara said.
The plan said that activities like timber harvesting “tend to approximate and promote natural processes that would also release carbon to the atmosphere.”
“Many management activities initially remove carbon from the forest ecosystem, but they can also result in long-term maintenance or increases in forest carbon uptake and storage by improving forest health and resilience to various types of stressors,” it said.
In 2018, the state of Alaska asked the federal government to open up the area to logging, arguing that it would help support the economy.
Lawmakers from the state expressed their support for the move on Friday.
“A full exemption from the Roadless Rule is about access — access to recreation, renewable energy and more,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R). “This puts us on track for a Record of Decision and final rule by the end of the year, in turn opening the door for individuals and communities throughout Southeast to build a more sustainable economy while still ensuring good stewardship of our lands and waters.”
The plan would open up 168,000 acres of older trees and 20,000 acres of younger trees to logging. Studies have suggested that older trees store more carbon than younger trees.
The administration first announced in October that it would move to undo limits on logging in the area.
Before that announcement was made last year, The Washington Post reported that President Trump himself told Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to exempt the forest from the roadless rule.
— Updated at 4:36 p.m.