A truck loaded with freshly cut lumber drives along a road in the Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.
On Wednesday, the Biden administration followed through on its commitment to ban commercial logging and other development on more than 9 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the country.
The move reverses a Trump administration rule that removed safeguards for the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest.
In a statement announcing the new rule, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Tongass “is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis.”
“Restoring Roadless Protections hears the voices of the tribal nations and people of Southeast Alaska while recognizing the importance of fishing and tourism to the region’s economy.”
The announcement is the latest in a decades-long tug of war over the future of the region.
President Theodore Roosevelt established the Tongass as a protected national forest in 1907, later expanding it to its current footprint of 16.7 million acres. In 2001, President Bill Clinton signed the “no roads rule” into law, which prohibited road construction and logging on 58.5 million acres of national forest land, including more than 9 million acres of Tongass.
The Trump administration exempted Tongass from the roadless rule in 2020, lifting Clinton-era logging restrictions on 9.3 million acres and reclassifying 188,000 acres, including 168,000 acres of old timber, as immediately fit for harvest.
Often referred to as “America’s Amazonism,” the Tongass sequesters about 8% of the total carbon sequestered in the forests of the lower 48 states, according to the US Department of Agriculture, and a staggering 44% of all the carbon stored in national forests across the United States. And there is growing recognition that safeguarding the forest will be critical to the fight against global climate change and species loss.
Environmental groups applauded Wednesday’s announcement, while Republicans and logging interests accused the Biden administration of blocking state resources.
Andy Moderow of the Alaska Wilderness League said the decision “recognizes that the future of Southeast Alaska is rooted in sustainable uses of the forest” and “puts public lands and people first.”
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) called it a “huge loss for Alaskans.”
“Alaskans deserve access to the resources that the Tongass provides: jobs, renewable energy resources and tourism, not a government plan that treats humans within a functioning forest as an invasive species,” Dunleavy said in a statement. .