Trump Admin Proposes Ending Limits on Logging in Country’s Largest National Forest

Published on October 15, 2019 by Athena Pallas

The Trump administration is now proposing to allow logging on more than half of the largest national forest in the country, 16.7 million acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Under the administration’s plan, nearly 9.5 million acres up to now protected under the 2001 “Roadless Rule” will now be opened for logging, with President Trump himself indicating that Tongass National Forest should be exempt from the “Roadless Rule” (which is explained below).

Not surprisingly, environmentalists are incensed by this latest effort by the Trump administration to undercut environmental concerns and to destroy natural habitats. Here, though, there are also concerns that the logging will damage the local salmon fishing and tourism industries, which are a much larger part of that area’s economy than is logging. Environmentalists are likely to sue, with Earthjustice’s Eric Jorgensen, who serves as managing attorney in the organization’s Juneau, Alaska, office indicating they would take the matter to court, saying, according to The Washington Post, “President Trump’s attack on the Tongass National Forest threatens an irreplaceable national treasure. The millions of ancient trees across this temperate rainforest serve as the greatest carbon sanctuary in the U.S. national forest system, helping us all as a counterweight against the climate crisis. This ecologically rich landscape and critical wildlife habitat will be lost forever if industry is allowed to clear-cut our national forest.” According to The Washington Post:

The Trump administration Tuesday proposed allowing logging on more than half of Alaska’s 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America. …The U.S. Forest Service said it would publish a draft environmental impact statement this week that, if enacted, would exempt the Tongass from the 2001 roadless rule. …The U.S. Forest Service had initially planned to make more modest changes to nearly 9.5 million acres there where roads are prohibited: Under the administration’s “preferred alternative,” that entire area would be open for development. …Trump, who has spoken with Alaska Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy (R) multiple times on the subject, has asked (Agriculture Secretary Sonny) Perdue to exempt the Tongass from logging limits, according to multiple federal officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. …The U.S. Forest Service said it would publish a draft environmental impact statement this week that, if enacted, would exempt the Tongass from the 2001 roadless rule.

The 2001 “Roadless Rule”, created by the Clinton administration, established protection for over 58.5 million acres of national forest lands, including the Tongass, according to The Hill, by prohibiting both timber harvesting and the road construction needed for timber harvesting, in order to keep those areas more pristine. The “Roadless Rule” survived a number of legal challenges that lasted until 2013, when the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia not only ruled in favor of keeping the rule, but also ruled that no further legal challenges to the law would be allowed because the statute of limitations on such suits had run out.

The Trump administration’s plan is subject to a public comment period of 60 days, so they will not be able to proceed for at least that long. The plan is also likely to be met with a number of legal challenges that may stop the plan or at least stall it in the courts long enough that a new administration will be in and can make a different choice.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.