This year has begun with a notable start–with forest protection at the forefront. The Biden Administration has restored the protection laws for more than half of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. As one of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests, it's vital for the livelihood of the native wildlife and fighting climate change.
This forest has been the main focus of a long tumultuous fight between environmentalists and Alaskan timber companies. Back in 2020, the Trump Administration was persuaded by Alaskan state leaders to repeal the Alaska Roadless Rule, and open up the forest to logging and road building. This rule has been in place since the Clinton Administration, but because of the strong potential in economic prosperity, state leaders dismissed the idea of environmental stability. Now with the law back in place, more than 9.3 million acres of forest is protected.
“The Tongass National Forest is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis. Restoring roadless protections listens to the voices of Tribal Nations and the people of Southeast Alaska while recognizing the importance of fishing and tourism to the region’s economy,” stated Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The rule has been published in the Federal Register and went into immediate effect. The trees that make up the dense forest are essential for keeping the balance of the present ecosystem–they absorb at least 8% of the carbon dioxide stored in the Lower 48’s forests. The Lower 48’s are the first 48 states, not including Alaska and Hawaii, to be added into the union. The forest has become notable for its plentiful salmon and famous salmon runs, its gracious fjords and ancient trees dating back 300 to 1,000 years. The protected habitat is also crucial for the Sitka black-tailed deer and the highest density of brown bears in North America.
Governor Mike Dunleavy believes this to be a loss for Alaska because they deserve to use the resources their land provides for them, even if that end goal is majorly profitable. But advocates stand strongly with President Biden’s decision to re-enact this law because it better supports the fishing industry, and allows the lands to thrive on its own terms without interference.
“The Tongass Roadless Rule is important to everyone. The old-growth timber is a carbon sink, one of the best in the world. It’s important to OUR WAY OF LIFE — the streams, salmon, deer, and all the forest animals and plants,” stated President of the Organized Village of Kake Joel Jackson. The village is nestled along the forest’s edge on an island south of the capital.