The Trump administration on Tuesday took a significant step toward opening the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest to logging and other potential extractive development.
The U.S. Forest Service issued a draft environmental impact statement aimed at cementing President Donald Trump’s push to exempt Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the so-called “roadless rule.” Signed in 2001 by President Bill Clinton, the conservation rule prohibits building roads and harvesting timber on 58.5 million acres of national forest lands, including 9.2 million acres of Tongass.
The proposal includes six alternatives; however, the administration’s preference calls for rolling back protections for all 9.2 million acres and reclassifying 185,000 acres as suitable for timber harvest. The Forest Service says it will publish the draft EIS in the Federal Register later this week and expects a final decision by June 2020.
The Trump administration announcement comes less than two months after The Washington Post reported that Trump directed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to greenlight logging in America’s largest national forest, located in southeast Alaska.
Eric Jorgensen, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice in Alaska, said the decision “threatens an irreplaceable national treasure.”
“This ecologically rich landscape and critical wildlife habitat will be lost forever if industry is allowed to clear-cut our national forest,” he said in an emailed statement. “There is no good reason to roll back protections for the Tongass, and Earthjustice will oppose this attack on the safeguards wisely established by the Roadless Rule.”
The move is part of a sweeping public land liquidation underway in America’s 49th state. There, nearly 30 million acres of federal land are at risk of being developed or transferred, according to a recent analysis from the Center for American Progress.
Slashing protections for more than half of the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest would likely not only negatively impact the ecosystem and the wildlife found there, but further hamper the global fight against climate change. The forest has millions of old-growth trees and sequesters approximately 8 percent of the total carbon stored in forests in the Lower 48 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), one of several co-authors of a bill to codify the roadless rule, said in a statement that Tongass is “one of our most effective tools to mitigate climate change” and that the Trump’s administration’s plan is “rushed,” “reckless” and “will cause harm for generations to come.”
This story has been updated.