Trump wants to erase protections in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, a storehouse of carbon

(Inside Climate News, 16 Oct 2019) The old-growth rainforest is a major North American carbon sink. The Trump administration is moving to lift a Clinton-era ban on logging there.

The Trump Administration wants to allow logging in previously off-limit areas of Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service announced Tuesday, a move that could turn one of the nation's largest carbon sinks into a source of new climate-changing emissions.

The old-growth temperate rainforest contains trees that are centuries old and play a crucial role in storing carbon. In a state that is synonymous with oil production, the Tongass National Forest represents the potential for natural solutions to help combat the climate crisis. 

A 9.4-million acre swath of the Tongass has been protected under a Clinton-era requirement called the Roadless Rule, which safeguarded 58 million acres of undeveloped national forest lands from roadbuilding, logging and mineral leasing. But the Tongass has long been an area of hot dispute.

The Forest Service is now moving to exempt the rainforest — and make tens of thousands of old-growth acres available to logging.

"The Tongass National Forest stores more carbon removed from the atmosphere than any other national forest in the country," said Josh Hicks, campaign manager at The Wilderness Society. "By seeking to weaken the Roadless Rule's protections, the Forest Service is prioritizing one forest use — harmful logging— over mitigating climate change, protecting wildlife habitat, and offering unmatched sight-seeing and recreation opportunities found only in southeast Alaska."

In August, Trump ordered Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to exclude the area from the Roadless Rule. The draft environmental impact statement — expected later this week — will aim to do just that, according to a press release issued on Tuesday that describes the administration's plan. If enacted, it would allow roads to be built throughout the now-protected area, and it would convert 165,000 old-growth acres and 20,000 young-growth acres previously identified as unsuitable timber lands to suitable timber lands. 

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Inside Climate News, 16 Oct 2019: Trump wants to erase protections in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, a storehouse of carbon