Logging roads are banned in the Tongass National Forest as the Biden administration restores protections cut by former President Trump.
Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in America, and has been the center of decades of fighting between environmental protections and commercial timber interests. In 2020, Alaska state leaders persuaded the Trump administration to undo protections laid down during the Clinton era, allowing new roads to be cut into the relatively pristine interior and granting logging permits.
The Tongass National Forest is over 25,000 square miles of temperate rainforest in Southeast Alaska. It includes thousands of miles of fjord coastline, parts of the Alexander Archipelago, the Coast Mountains, and multiple glaciers. It is remote enough to be refuge to thousands of species of endangered and rare flora and fauna, but was logged extensively from the 1950s into the late 80s.
According to studies, over two-thirds of old-growth forest in the Tongass was logged during that time, and protections were put in place in the 90s to preserve what is left, mostly through the banning of new logging roads and new permits. Old logging roads, and a few timber leases, are still in place and will not be revoked.
“The Tongass National Forest is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “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.”
Opponents to the new ruling say that opening the Tongass back to timber harvesting is important for Alaska’s financial independence. But fishing, which is protected by this act, is a much larger part of the state’s economy than timber. The Tongass is estimated to pour approximately 50 million salmon into the waters of Southeast Alaska annually, or about 80% of the Alaskan harvest, valued at round $60 million.