Biden admin seals protections for Tongass National Forest

On Wednesday, the Biden administration took its final step toward restoring roadless boundaries for logging and other development in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

The Department of Agriculture said it is finalizing a proposal to put 9.3 million acres of southeast Alaska forest back off-limits to commercial logging and other development that requires road construction, though exceptions are possible in certain situations. The forest totals nearly 17 million acres.

“As our nation’s largest national forest and the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, the Tongass National Forest is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. press announcing the measure. “Restoring Roadless Protections hears the voices of the tribal nations and people of Southeast Alaska while recognizing the importance of fishing and tourism to the region’s economy.”

The administration’s action continues the regulatory ping-pong that has applied, and then not applied, the 2001 Roadless Areas Conservation Rule to Alaskan forest. The Trump administration removed the restrictions in 2020, opening up areas of the forest to potential logging. The actions of the Trump administration did not authorize any specific project.

President Joe Biden had signaled since his election that he would seek to reverse Trump’s moves on the Tongass. With its emphasis on carbon sequestration and climate change, the new administration has determined that Alaska’s vast forest is a compelling symbol of a more moderate approach to clearing established forests on federal lands (green cableNovember 19, 2021).

The reaction followed the usual line, with environmental groups hailing the move and logging interests warning it could undermine what’s left of Alaska’s wood products industry.

“Tongass has long been subject to a political pendulum, which does not facilitate active forest management or allow for the use of community-led planning processes that Congress intended,” said Tessa Axelson, executive director of the Alaska Forestry Association. . “In addition, it undermines the years of work, analysis and input from Forest Service staff here in Southeast Alaska.”

Environmental groups said the move reflects a realization that timber production is fading as the region’s economic engine, replaced by commercial fishing and other industries.

“This is great news for the forest, salmon, wildlife and people who depend on intact ecosystems to sustain their livelihoods and livelihoods,” said Kate Glover, an attorney with Earthjustice.

The administration said a formal notice will be posted Friday in the federal register.