Biden administration adopts new protections for Alaska’s Tongass Forest
The Biden administration has restored protections to Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, sometimes called “the American Amazon.”
The new protections, announced Jan. 25, repeal Alaska’s 2020 no-road rule that opened the doors to road building and timber harvesting in the forest and also restores “long-standing no-road protections.” over 9.37 million acres of road-free areas that support the ecological, economic and cultural values of Southeast Alaska,” according to a statement from the Department of Agriculture.
In 2020, President Donald Trump removed protections from more than half of the forest area exempting it from the original no-road rule implemented in 2001 during the final days of President Bill Clinton’s presidency. The Five Tribal Nations of Alaska opposed the rollback.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the statement that the protections were crucial to preserving biodiversity, addressing the climate crisis and prioritizing the voices of tribal nations.
“As our nation’s largest national forest and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass National Forest is critical to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis,” Vilsack said. “Restoring roadless protections listens to 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 forest spans a total of 16.7 million acres which are “critical for carbon sequestration and storage to help mitigate climate change”, according to the Department of Agriculture. By absorbing carbon dioxide, forests like Tongass can help offset America’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The area is also a key tourist attraction as it is home to iconic Alaskan wildlife, such as eagles, bears and salmon, according to the US Forest Service.
In addition to its environmental significance, the forest also has “tremendous cultural significance” to Alaska Natives, according to the USDA statement. The forest is part of the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes.
On Twitter, the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska said that with the rollback, the USDA had “rectified a critical issue for our people who are most impacted by decisions affecting the Tongass National Forest. Tongass was wrongly exempted from roadless rule and without meaningful tribal consultation.
With the repeal, the forest will revert to the 2001 no-road rule that “prohibits construction, reconstruction, and timber harvesting in scheduled no-road areas, with limited exceptions,” the USDA Press release declared.
Homer Wilkes, USDA Undersecretary of Natural Resources and Environment, said the decision “reflects our continued focus on listening to the tribal nations and people of Southeast Alaska.”
“Protecting the Tongass will support watershed protection, climate benefits and ecosystem health and protect areas important to employment and community well-being – and this responds directly to the contributions of tribal nations,” said he said in the press release.