Trump Administration Paves Way for Old-growth Clearcutting in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

A forestry sign for Tongass National Forest.
US Forest Service

The Trump administration recently announced plans to gut long-standing protections against logging and road-building in the Tongass National Forest

The forest is a cherished old-growth temperate rainforest in Southeast Alaska and homelands of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people.

A coalition that includes Alaska Native people and Alaska-based and national organizations opposes the U.S. Forest Service plan, which comes weeks after revelations that President Trump exerted pressure to allow new clear-cuts in the Tongass.

The agency’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), expected to be published soon, would repeal Roadless Rule protections across more than nine million acres of the Tongass, dangerously weakening this national standard by enabling logging interests to bulldoze roads and clear-cut trees in areas of the Tongass that have been off-limits for decades.

In Alaska, which experienced unprecedented heat waves this summer, the Tongass serves as a buffer against climate change and as a refuge for salmon, birds, and other wildlife. Much like the Amazon rainforest, the Tongass’ stands of ancient trees are champions at absorbing greenhouse gas emissions, storing approximately 8 percent of the total carbon in all national forests of the lower 48 states.

Logging the Tongass would threaten the health of Alaskan salmon by polluting rivers and streams, and by removing trees that help regulate water temperature. Current Roadless Rule protections also extend to cultural and sacred sites of great importance to Alaska Native people, who rely upon the Tongass for spiritual and subsistence practices.

The landmark 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule protects more than 58 million acres of roadless national forest lands across the country. Weakening this policy in Alaska will harm local and indigenous communities, Southeast Alaska’s economy, salmon fisheries, and wildlife. The Tongass, America’s largest and wildest national forest, draws outdoor adventurers, boaters, birders, hunters, and anglers. An intact Tongass supports a robust Southeast Alaskan economy through tourism, commercial and sport fishing, and small businesses. Its old-growth trees provide irreplaceable wildlife habitat for myriad species including wild Pacific salmon, Alexander Archipelago wolves, and Sitka black-tailed deer.

More than 1.5 million Americans voiced support for the Roadless Rule during the original rulemaking process, which followed decades of clear-cutting that had a destructive and lasting impact on the Tongass.

The rule continues to receive overwhelming support in Alaska and across the nation. Recent polling shows that 61 percent of voters nationwide oppose exempting large parts of the Tongass from the protections of the Roadless Rule. In Southeast Alaska, 60 percent support keeping the Roadless Rule in place, more than twice as many as those who support a Tongass exemption. Two different polls were conducted; by Tulchin Research and Lake Research.

The following statements were released in response to the announcement:

“We must holistically analyze the root causes of habitat destruction in the Tongass National Forest along with its directed social injustices, while quickly seeking solutions to the very real climate crisis today that is hugely impacting all the life on the lands we depend upon, including ours. We are the voices for the protection of the 2001 Roadless Rule. It must be coded into law for its own protection from industrial exploitation,” said Wanda Culp, Tlingit Activist, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) Tongass Regional Coordinator.

“The world’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforest containing vital old-growth trees is under attack because of efforts to undo the Roadless Rule. The Tongass Rainforest of Alaska — the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Peoples — has been called ‘the nation’s climate forest’ due to its unsurpassed ability to sequester carbon and mitigate climate impacts. For decades, industrial-scale logging has been destroying this precious ecosystem and disrupting the life-ways of the region’s Indigenous peoples and local communities. We stand with Indigenous peoples, Southeast Alaskans, and allies nationally and internationally to say no to further old-growth logging, and yes to maintaining the current Roadless Rule. Our national forests are essential lungs of the Earth,” said Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN).

Visit earthjustice.org for additional information on the upcoming plans as well as actions you can take.

Written and prepared by Earthjustice.