environment

Trump Wants to Log Alaska’s Tongass, World’s Largest Intact Temperate Rainforest

The Tongass National Forest. Photo: Sergi Reboredo/Universal Images Group via Getty

As the world’s largest rain forest is subjected to a one-man plan of mass deforestation and faces the possibility of a terrifying but accurately named “dieback” scenario, the Amazon’s northern ally, the Tongass National Forest — the world’s largest intact temperate rain forest — may be forced to open up half of its 16.7 million acres to logging, energy, and mining development.

According to a report from the Washington Post, President Trump has told Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to find a way to exempt the protected Tongass in Alaska’s panhandle from the logging restrictions known as the “roadless rule,” which was established by the Clinton administration. One Trump staffer who spoke with the paper said forest policy has become “an obsession of his,” while Trump himself has said he has recently taken an interest in “forest management.” But as with many of his interests, the president hasn’t taken all that much time to learn about forest health: In a visit to Paradise, California, after last year’s deadliest fire season in history, Trump suggested the U.S. could limit the state’s wildfire crisis by spending “a lot of time on raking.” Trump’s interest in forestry also involves his usual vindictiveness: Disapproving of California’s fire-management system, he reportedly wanted to cut its federal funding last year.

Like other “obsessions” in which the president’s limited financial acumen crashes into his limited understanding of the natural world, his hope for Tongass National Forest is to open it up as a vast logging opportunity. But the timber industry represents less than one percent of southeastern Alaska’s labor force: Seafood processing and tourism, industries immeasurably benefited by an intact Tongass, represent 8 percent and 17 percent of the region’s jobs.

The forest’s impact on salmon fisheries alone should be enough to let it be. Chris Wood, the president of the environmental group Trout Unlimited and a former Forest Service staffer who helped implement the “roadless rule” under Clinton, told the Post that the agency has “realized the golden goose is in the salmon, not the trees.” According to the Post, “about 40 percent of wild salmon that make their way down the West Coast spawn in the Tongass: The Forest Service estimates that the salmon industry generates $986 million annually. Returning salmon bring nutrients that sustain forest growth, while intact stands of trees keep streams cool and trap sediment.” Other wildlife rely on the massive forest — it is more than double the size of the next largest national forest — as the Tongass’s remaining old-growth trees provide critical habitat for brown bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, and northern goshawks. Though its wilderness status protects 5.7 million acres of the forest from any development, Trump’s potential plan could affect 9.5 million acres.

Though the self-manufactured crises of being president have taken up most of Trump’s time over the past two and a half years, he remains a developer at heart, treating the West as a vast land bank to dole out parcel by parcel. His current nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management — the agency that oversees federal lands — doesn’t think the government should have any. A recent gutting of the Endangered Species Act shrinks the boundaries of “critical habitat” that protected species require for survival. And famously, the Bears Ears National Monument was an early target of the administration when it was cut by 85 percent in 2017; unsurprisingly, oil and natural-gas deposits were a motivating factor in the decision. As Earther’s Tom McKay puts it, Trump’s interest in forest management is just a “synonym for logging” and other extractive industries.

Trump Wants to Log the World’s Largest Temperate Rain Forest