Biden administration to restore, expand protections for Tongass National Forest

Biden administration to restore, expand protections for Tongass National Forest
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The Biden administration will both restore protections for the Tongass National Forest and add additional logging restrictions, the Agriculture Department announced on Thursday. 

In a statement, the department said that it would start a rulemaking process this summer to restore Clinton-era protections to the Alaska forest. 

It will also add more protections by ending large-scale sales of timber harvested from the Tongass's old growth trees, but will still allow small-scale sales for "community consumption and cultural use."

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The department also said that it would invest about $25 million in sustainable opportunities for economic growth and community well-being and would also look for potential priorities for future investments. 

“We look forward to meaningful consultation with Tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations, and engaging with local communities, partners, and the State to prioritize management and investments in the region that reflect a holistic approach to the diverse values present in the region,” Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE said in a statement.

“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 added. 

The administration had already announced that it would make changes to a Trump-era move to expand logging in the forest, saying in a regulatory agenda issued last month that it would seek to “repeal or replace” that decision

The announcement marks the latest step in a years-long battle over whether to protect the forest under the Clinton administration’s “Roadless Rule,” which prohibited road construction and timber harvesting on many Forest Service lands. 

In creating an exemption, the Trump administration argued that its decision would increase rural economic opportunity and would only cause a "modest difference" in environmental impacts. 

Environmentalists, though, raised concerns about increased logging in the forest, which 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.

--Updated at 12:16 p.m.