Even as it appears we may have avoided another government shutdown, the Tongass National Forest remains potentially on the chopping block, and I can’t help but reflect back on my last trip to the Tongass in southeast Alaska.
When I think of the Tongass, I see icy glaciers, breathtaking mountains and lush forest as far as the eye can see. Wildlife abounds, including bears, eagles, beavers and porcupines, just to name a few. But I also recall the effects of climate change, most notably on the forest’s massive but receding glaciers. And I recall that amidst all that beauty, the results of decades of old-growth logging are visible throughout the forest.
Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. (Leah Donahey / Alaska Wilderness League)
The thriving life found on the myriad of hikes I did close to Juneau was a great reminder – the Tongass really is America’s rainforest. And after all that the Tongass continues to give Alaska – endless recreation opportunities, beautiful tourist destinations and bountiful salmon runs – I just can’t imagine how the Alaska delegation could sacrifice the Tongass National Forest for the sake of a few timber mills. For decades, industrial scale old-growth logging has taken place in America’s largest temperate rainforest. More than 1 million acres have been logged to date, with stands of trees that are up to 600 years old destroyed for short term economic gain.
A clear-cut on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass National Forest. (Alaska Wilderness League)
The U.S. Forest Service has taken action to end old growth logging; however, these protections are under attack today. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is trying to ram through two Tongass riders on moving legislation, including the Congressional budget, and both would put the Tongass National Forest at risk.
One rider would undo the Forest Service’s Tongass Land Management Plan, which was crafted by a diverse set of stakeholders in southeast Alaska and works to transition the timber industry out of old-growth logging.
The second rider would exempt Alaska’s two national forests – the Tongass and Chugach – from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. This policy – in place for almost two decades – has successfully protected our remaining, pristine forests not only in Alaska, but also nationwide, by ending taxpayer subsidized road construction in our national forests.
League staff in one of many roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest. (Daniel Dietrich / www.danieldietrichphotography.com)
Roadless Rule protections prohibit damaging road construction and prevent old-growth logging in sensitive areas while keeping access open for recreation, wildlife and sustainable economic development. Today, hydropower, mining and other projects continue in the Tongass under the rule. Undoing these protections will put at risk 10 million acres of national forest land in the Tongass alone.
Alaskans and thousands from across the country support protecting the Tongass. Congress needs to say no to any back door deal to put the Tongass forest at risk. Instead, we should prioritize sustainable uses of the forest, so that our generation and those who follow can all equally enjoy the benefits of the Tongass National Forest.
Take action to protect the Tongass National Forest:
Leah Donahey / Alaska Wilderness League