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Biden restores protections for U.S.’ largest national forest

The Biden administration moved Thursday to reverse a Trump-imposed policy that opened major areas of the U.S.’ largest national forest, the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, to logging and road development. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also said it intends to end large-scale old growth timber sales in the area. 

The forest was originally protected by the 2001 Roadless Rule, which bans logging and road development in certain parts of the country. But in his final months in office, Trump exempted the forest from the rule. 

In a Thursday notice, the White House said the administration would look to “repeal or replace” that exemption. 

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, told The Washington Post in an email that “the Trump administration’s decision on the Alaska roadless rule was controversial and did not align with the overwhelming majority of public opinion across the country and among Alaskans.”

Alaskan officials, such as Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy, opposed the decision, claiming that by withholding rights to the forest, the federal government is withholding jobs from Alaskans. 

“The Forest Service has already conducted a thorough analysis and determined that an Alaska-specific exemption from a one-size-fits-all roadless rule was fully justified,” Dunleavy said in a statement, arguing that the move is part of an effort to “put Alaska workers permanently into unemployment lines and wipe out small businesses.” 

But environmentalists are pleased, noting that the Tongass forest is home to wolves, bears and salmon, as well as many old-growth trees.

Brown bear in Tongass National Forest, Southeast Alaska, USA.

Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

“Southeast Alaska communities can breathe a little easier today knowing that the Tongass National Forest, and the livelihoods, local economies, and wildlife that depend on them will remain protected. President Biden’s action to restore and strengthen safeguards for the Tongass is a victory for these communities and for our climate.” Sierra Club Alaska Chapter Director Andrea Feniger said in a statement

Although the USDA said it plans to end large-scale old growth timber sales from the forest, it will still permit small sales for community consumption and cultural items like totem poles, canoes and tribal artisan use. 

The USDA said in a statement that it looks forward “to meaningful consultation with Tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations, and engaging with local communities, partners, and the State to prioritize management and investments in the region that reflect a holistic approach to the diverse values present in the region.”

This is not the first time the Biden administration has moved to reinstate environmental protections removed under Mr. Trump. Last month, Biden suspended Trump-era oil and gas drilling leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, reversing one of former President Donald Trump’s final environmental decisions before leaving office. The refuge is home to hundreds of thousands of migrating polar bears, waterfowl and caribou, and it is warming faster than any other region on the Earth due to climate change. 

By restoring the protections to the Tongass forest, the USDA wrote that the federal government is “returning stability and certainty to the conservation of 9.3 million acres of the world’s largest temperate old growth rainforest.”


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