America’s largest national forest, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, will be opened up to logging and road construction after the Trump administration finalizes its plans to open up the forest on Friday, according to The New York Times.
The plans to open up the forest to logging have been in the works for years. In March, the Trump administration faced a setback when a federal judge halted plans to open 1.8 million acres to logging and road building because the administration had failed to evaluate the environmental impact fully, as EcoWatch reported at the time.
The roughly 9 million acres that the administration wants to open up now have been protected since the 2001 by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, or Roadless Rule, which prohibits construction in nationally protected wild areas, according to The Guardian. The U.S Forest Service is expected to release a full environmental impact statement later on Friday, saying that lifting the rule will not damage the 16.7 million-acre temperate rainforest in southeast Alaska. The administration will consequently revoke the Roadless Rule and move forward with plans to lease the land for logging.
The drive to open up Tongass National Forest to logging, as well as energy and mineral exploration, started in 2018 when Alaska’s Governor Bill Walker asked the federal government to consider removing protections for the forest. While Alaska’s senators have supported the idea, environmental advocates have criticized it, according to the AP.
The U.S. Forest Service evaluated several plans, including more moderate ones that would maintain protections for 80 percent of the forest and another that would have opened up logging and road construction to 2.3 million acres. The Forest Service, however, decided to fully remove the Roadless Rule protections and open 9 million acres to developers and loggers, according to a statement from the Department of Agriculture, as The New York Times reported.
“This administration has opted to take the road well traveled by continuing to spend tens of millions of dollars every year to expand logging roads for a dying old-growth timber industry,” said Andy Moderow, a director for the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement, as The Guardian reported. “This is bad for people, bad for a sustainable economy and bad for wildlife.”
Earthjustice, an environmental legal-advocacy group that successfully stopped development in Tongass in March, said it would fight the plan in the courts. Katie Glover, an attorney for Earthjustice, said, “We will use every tool available to continue defending this majestic and irreplaceable national forest,” as the AP reported.
Scientists have also criticized the plan, saying that Tongass is one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, absorbing nearly 8 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution that the U.S. emits. Scientists also note that cutting down the old growth trees will put trapped greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere, which is particularly imprudent when the world is grappling with increasingly severe heat waves and wildfires triggered by the climate crisis, as The New York Times reported.
“The Forest Service’s environmental impact statement is junk science on assessing the impacts of releasing the carbon,” said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist and president of Geos Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies climate change, to The New York Times. “They are saying that the carbon that would be released by logging the timber is insignificant. There’s no science that supports their analysis.”
That sentiment was echoed by Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, who vowed to fight the lifting of the Roadless Rule, as the AP reported. She said in a statement that the new plan will pour “gasoline on the inferno of climate change. These towering ancient trees take enormous amounts of carbon out of the air and we need them now more than ever. We’ll do everything possible to keep these magnificent giants standing for centuries to come.”
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