Biden admin restores Tongass protections Trump stripped

By Heather Richards | 07/15/2021 02:09 PM EDT

Tongass National Forest

View of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Rob Bertholf/Flickr

The Biden administration announced today it will end large-scale timber sales in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, pivoting instead to preservation.

The Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, will also restore protections stripped by the Trump administration to allow for road construction and other activities like logging.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today’s actions constitute a new direction for Tongass and southeast Alaska, where the agency is offering $25 million toward sustainable development alternatives.

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“This approach will help us chart the path to long-term economic opportunities that are sustainable and reflect Southeast Alaska’s rich cultural heritage and magnificent natural resources,” he said, adding the agency would engage in consultations on doling out the funding.

Movement on Tongass was expected from the Biden White House. Just last month, USDA promised to repeal and replace Trump rollbacks that unraveled 20-year protections against logging on more than half of the forest.

The Trump administration last year finalized exemptions to the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, at the request of Alaska state officials. Biden’s USDA will begin rulemaking this summer to reapply restrictions.

On top of that, the administration said it would end timber sales across the full 16.7 million acres of the national forest. The Forest Service will shift its management focus to resilience, restoration, wildlife management and habitat improvement.

The end of industrial-scale sales will not bar modest tree harvesting for tribes to support the construction of canoes, totem poles and artisanal objects, the agency said in a release.

The Biden administration’s actions today spurred approval from conservation and wilderness advocates, who noted the climate benefits of protecting the forest, which stores more carbon than any other national forest in the country.

“Old-growth forests are critical to addressing climate change,” said Andy Moderow, Alaska director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “With Alaska experiencing climate impacts more acutely than most, we shouldn’t be discussing the continued clear-cutting of a natural climate solution that exists right in our own backyard. Alaskans love their old-growth forests, and the timber industry in Southeast is now a relic of the past.”

Many Alaska Natives were also supportive of restoring protections. The National Congress of American Indians adopted a resolution last month in support of restrictions. The resolution noted that the timber market has shifted and that Tongass timber’s competitive advantage has weakened.

Members of the Alaska congressional delegation supported former President Trump’s actions and have spoken out against the Biden team’s move to add restrictions.

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