In 2019, the Trump administration moved to gut age-old protections for Alaska’s largest temperate rainforest and to open it up for logging. Now, according to a 62-page notice posted Wednesday, it will be legal for logging companies to build roads and remove timber across more than 9.3 million acres of forest—reversing previous protections and opening the forest to excavation of an additional 188,000 forested acres.
But the fate of the Tongass has long been held in limbo between presidential administrations—a timeline with such highs and lows that plans for the forest have been debated almost monthly, every single year, since 1998. In 2001, for example, then-President Bill Clinton established the Roadless Rule, which prohibited more than 50 million acres from road construction (and reconstruction) and timber harvesting. Then, George Bush sought to overturn the rule until, in 2006, federal district court judge Elizabeth Laporte (San Francisco) ordered the reinstatement of the Clinton-era rule, which extended to more than half of the forest.
Late last year, after more than 400,000 comments were sent to the US Forest Service in defense of the cherished lands and nearly 200 people (including local tribal leaders, environmental activists, and fishermen) testified against the proposal, a federal judge ruled against the plan to destroy 1.8 million acres of forest that dozens of ecosystems call home. But now, Trump is making good on his word to decimate the forest in his most sweeping public land rollback ever.
What else is at stake besides an ecological oasis that’s home to a myriad of species, including old-growth stands of red and yellow cedar, Sitka spruce, and Western hemlock? Clean water: The Tongass holds over 900 watersheds and provides clean water for drinking and hydropower to a dozen Southeast Alaska communities and fish hatcheries. The health and safety of Indigenous communities: The Tongass is home to the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples. In response to Trump’s proposal, WECAN International said the federal government’s plans would “actively contribute to the ongoing genocide of Indigenous Peoples whose identities, cultures, and livelihoods are integral to the forest.” And more broadly, America’s contribution to the world’s carbon sink: It’s estimated that the Tongass captures 8% of all of the carbon stored in US forests.