Green groups sue over Trump bid to open Alaska's Tongass forest to logging

Green groups sue over Trump bid to open Alaska's Tongass forest to logging
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A coalition of environmental groups is suing the Trump administration after it lifted protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, expanding logging in the nation’s largest old growth forest.

The October rule from the U.S. Forest Service exempts the Tongass from the so-called Roadless Rule, a Clinton-era regulation designed to limit logging by restricting road access within forests.

Under the Trump administration’s changes, the nearly 9.4 million acres of inventoried roadless land in the Tongass would once again be considered suitable timberlands. 

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“The large roadless areas of the Tongass provide outstanding habitat for a remarkable diversity of wildlife. Stripping protections from this forest to allow for road construction, clear cut logging, and other destructive activities will degrade water quality, accelerate climate change impacts, and threaten local economies,” Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, said in a release announcing the suit. “The U.S. Forest Service ignored public input from Indigenous tribes, local communities and tens of thousands of people across the country, and it violated the law. The administration left us no choice but to go to court to protect this remarkable place for future generations.” 

The suit, filed by a coalition of 13 environmental groups on behalf of several tribes, argues the Forest Service did not properly consult with Alaska tribes when making their decision or fully weigh the environmental consequences of the decision.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the Forest Service, did not respond to request for comment.

Courts have already questioned the Trump administration's plans for the forest. In March, a U.S. district court judge wrote the agency failed to fully consider the environmental impacts of a project that opened logging in more than 1.8 million acres of the Tongass over the next 15 years. 

The suit also follows a report from the USDA’s Office of Inspector General finding that the Forest Service wrongly awarded the state of Alaska a grant to prepare their own environmental analysis for the project.

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The funding was improperly taken from a pot of money designed to help communities prevent and suppress wildfires. But Democrats who requested the investigation along with tribes in the area feel the money showed the Trump administration was determined to open the area without weighing Native American concerns.

“The need for this litigation is a mark of shame upon the federal government for violating the trust and responsibilities it has to the Indigenous peoples of the Tongass. It is equally a stain upon the State of Alaska which colluded with the Trump Administration to circumvent scientific analysis to achieve a desired political outcome,” said Robert Starbard, tribal administrator of the Hoonah Indian Association. 

Starbard said his association stopped coordinating with the Forest Service “when it became clear that our involvement was purely to provide political cover and lend legitimacy to a corrupted process with a preordained outcome. The Roadless Rule decision is fatally flawed and ignores the advice and expertise of the Tribal cooperating agencies and omits significant issues and concerns.”