Southeast Alaska, home of the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest on the planet, has a renewed threat to the old-growth trees

Alaska’s congressional delegation is pushing to dismantle Tongass protections by opening areas to harmful logging. Logging of old-growth trees in this region comes with impacts to the ecosystem health, and thus the health of the communities these ecosystems sustain. Additionally, the Tongass National Forest functions as a major carbon sink that removes excess carbon from the atmosphere – meaning damaging the Tongass has global climate implications. A December 2019 report by the Geos Institue confirms the importance of the Tongass as a carbon sink. Learn more about the report here.

Roadless Rule

At 17 million acres, the Tongass is the largest National Forest, storing 44% of total ecosystem carbon for the entire U.S. National Forest system and providing a home to the largest, densest concentrations of brown bears and bald eagles found on the planet. In October 2020, Ignoring the overwhelming majority of Alaskans, Trump administration Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue released his official decision on the Alaska Roadless Rule, selecting Alternative 6 — the full exemption — thus eliminating national Roadless Rule protections from the Tongass National Forest. In December 2020, A coalition of environmental groups, tribes, and fisherpeople responded by filing a lawsuit against the Trump Administration to restore Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass National Forest. In June 2021, The Biden Administration released a public notice saying it would “repeal or replace” The Trump Administration’s Alaska Roadless Rule decision. In July 2021, the USDA Forest Service announced the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, which announced intentions to end large-scale old-growth timber sales on the Tongass. Additionally, the strategy announced that the USDA Forest Service would initiate a rulemaking process that would propose restoring 2001 Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass National Forest. Moving forward, Alaskans await the start of that upcoming rulemaking process (expected to start in the Fall of 2021) which will include a public comment period.

To learn more about the Roadless Rule, check out these great info slides created by Sitka Conservation Society:

Prince of Wales Island Timber Sale

Up until recently, the forests on Prince of Wales Island were under threat from the largest old-growth timber sale on the Tongass in nearly 30 years. The Prince of Wales Landscape Level Analysis (POW LLA) project was approved by the Forest Service and had the potential to result in the clearcutting of about 23,000 acres of old-growth trees on Alaska’s public lands. Thanks to the diligence of Alaska conservation groups, the timber sale was blocked by a federal judge in September 2019. 

Further Threats

  • Tongass Management Plan decision reversal pressure from senators, which currently protects sensitive areas of the Tongass from logging
  • Landless legislation that would privatize more of the Tongass and make large swaths of old-growth forest available for logging
  • Current and proposed mining in Southeast Alaska and upstream in Canada threaten ecosystem health

Read more about the Tongass National Forest here