Trump dumps protections for Alaska's Tongass forest, 'America's last climate sanctuary'

A clearcut mountain in the Tongass National Forest.
(Image credit: iStock/mscornelius)

One of the world's largest intact temperate rainforests — and the largest natural forest in the U.S. — is now open for deforestation.

The Trump administration has lifted longstanding protections guarding Alaska's Tongass National Rainforest, a notice posted Wednesday on the federal register reveals. The entire 16.7 million-acre forest will now be open for logging, road building, and other forms of development, The Washington Post reports.

Tongass is home to 9.3 million acres of pure forest, including old-growth timber that helps sink the continental U.S.'s carbon emissions. "While tropical rainforests are the lungs of the planet, the Tongass is the lungs of North America,” Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist with the Earth Island Institute's Wild Heritage project, told the Post. "It's America's last climate sanctuary." Rare species of deer and bears, as well as salmon, trout, and birds, also roam the Tongass.

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A rule enacted by former President Bill Clinton in 2001 blocked roads and development in Tongass and national forests across the U.S. Alaska Republicans have recently sought to exempt Tongass from those protections to develop southeastern Alaska, and seemingly won Trump over amid the coronavirus pandemic that tanked the economy. Robert Venables, who runs an economic development group in southeast Alaska, acknowledged the summer's economic shortcomings amid a decimated tourism season. But he told the Post this decision went too far to promote more economic activity.

Pretty much all of the comments on the U.S. Forest Service’s environmental review of lifting the Tongass protections opposed the move. All five Alaska Native tribal nations also withdrew from working as cooperating agencies on the project after the Forest Service revealed its plans, saying the process "disregarded our input at every turn." Read more at The Washington Post.

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Kathryn Krawczyk

Kathryn is a graduate of Syracuse University, with degrees in magazine journalism and information technology, along with hours to earn another degree after working at SU's independent paper The Daily Orange. She's currently recovering from a horse addiction while living in New York City, and likes to share her extremely dry sense of humor on Twitter.