Biden administration to propose protections for Tongass forest rolled back by Trump

The Biden administration will soon propose restoring protections to more than 9 million acres of Tongass National Forest in Alaska that were rolled back by the Trump administration.  

The Agriculture Department, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, announced late Thursday that “early next week” it will propose repealing the Trump-era rule, which would once again block logging in the area. 

The protections for large swaths of the roughly 17 million acre Tongass National Forest were first put in place in 2001 by the Clinton administration through the promulgation of a rule known as the “Roadless Rule,” which prevented logging a total of over 58 million acres across various Forest Service lands.  

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But whether the Tongass National Forest should be part of the rule has been a long-standing partisan battle; the George W. Bush administration also sought to exempt it.  

“Restoring the Tongass’ roadless protections supports the advancement of economic, ecologic and cultural sustainability in Southeast Alaska in a manner that is guided by local voices,” 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 late Thursday. “The proposed rule is considerate of Alaska’s Tribal Nations, community input, and builds on the region’s economic drivers of tourism and fishing.”

The Biden administration signaled earlier this year that it would be restoring as well as expanding Tongass National Forest protections, including adopting a rulemaking process for shoring up protections previously enacted during the Clinton administration and only allowing small-scale timber sales. 

Environmentalists are concerned that logging could release more carbon into the atmosphere, among other concerns.

The Trump administration claimed in its decision regarding the Tongass National Forest that logging would only create a “modest difference” in terms of its impact on the environment, and could increase opportunities in rural areas.

The Tongass Forest is of particular interest because it’s a carbon sink — meaning it absorbs more carbon dioxide than it releases, mitigating climate change. 

In fact, Forest Service found in 2016 that it stores more carbon than any other forest in the country.