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The Trump Administration proposes to allow logging on the Tongass National Forest and exempt it from the Roadless Rule, stripping protections from old growth forests that are vital to the fight against climate change.
One of the world’s largest carbon sinks is under siege by the Trump administration. On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service proposed to allow logging on 9.3 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which is the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America and one of our nation’s greatest natural treasures. The move would exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule and reverse nearly two decades of conservation that protects a critical ecosystem in the fight against climate change.
The Tongass is the country’s single most important national forest for carbon sequestration and carbon change mitigation. The U.S. Forest Service estimates the Tongass stores 10 to 12 percent of the total carbon captured by America’s national forests. Many of the trees in the Tongass are over 800 years old, standing over 200 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter.
A recent IPCC report inventories the impacts of climate change on the planet’s last remaining winter ecosystems: glaciers are melting, coastlines are eroding, and permafrost is disappearing. Alaska is warming at roughly twice the rate compared to the rest of the country, which is causing a profound impact on communities, livelihoods, and ecosystems across the state. Protecting the Tongass is critical to fighting climate change and saving winter.
“Cutting old growth trees on the Tongass has an effect on powder skiing in the Wasatchand elsewhere in the lower 48,” says Hilary Eisen, Winter Wildlands Alliance policy director. “Our snow seasons are getting shorter. We’re getting more rain instead of snow. And not only are we failing to address climate change, but this action actually takes us backwards. It undos 18 years of pro-active conservation work that protected these critical carbon sinks.”
The U.S. Forest Service will publish a draft Environmental Impact Statement to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule this week. The agency is recommending an alternative that strips longstanding protections against logging and road-building that have been in place since the Roadless Rule was enacted in 2001.
The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration wants to reverse long-standing protections against logging at the “request of Alaska’s top elected officials” who say timber production will boost the local economy. However, the timber industry provides just under one percent of southeastern Alaskan jobs, compared to seafood processing’s 8 percent and tourism’s 17 percent. Logging the Tongass will have a devastating impact to both Alaska’s salmon fishing and tourism.
The Tongass is home to a wealth of wildlife—including whales, bald eagles, otters, beavers, wolves, and bears. There are five species of salmon in Tongass rivers. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, Alaska’s recreation industry supports more than 70,000 jobs in the state, generating more than $2 billion in wages and salaries. The Outdoor Industry also contributes $7.3 billion to Alaska’s economy. Rivers and forests on the Tongass provide ample opportunities for paddling, climbing, mountaineering, backcountry snowsports, mountain biking, and hiking.
Winter Wildlands Alliance and our partners at the Outdoor Alliance strongly oppose exemptions or exceptions to the Roadless Rule in Alaska—and elsewhere. The Roadless Rule preserves wild landscapes across our National Forest system and provides opportunities for recreation and adventure. It’s also a fundamental tool to conserve sensitive ecosystems and wildlife habitats. The public will have 60 days to provide comment on the Forest Service’s plan to rollback regulations on the Tongass. We will keep you informed as soon as the draft EIS is published and available to the public.
Shana Maziarz crosses the Hulahula River to start a long day of earning turns in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Brennan Lagasse
IT’S BEEN A COUPLE OF MONTHS since the last Winter Wildlands Alliance policy update, not because there’s nothing to talk about, but because I ducked out of the office this spring to track wolverines in Mongolia. While in Mongolia, I ran into some unexpected challenges that illustrated how climate change is impacting wild snowscapes across the globe. It reminded me that, as backcountry skiers, our adventures take us to the world’s wildest places and we’re often among the first to see them change. As credible witnesses to the impacts of a changing climate on our mountains and snowscapes, backcountry skiers are in a unique position to speak up.
This is why, earlier this month, with our Outdoor Alliance partners, we submitted a range of testimony to the House Subcommittee on National Forests, Parks, and Public Lands for a hearing on the impacts of climate change on public lands recreation (scroll down to see the letter we submitted). Testimony included front-lines accounts from Winter Wildlands Alliance ambassadors Caroline Gleich (writing from Mount Everest), Luc Mehl (from Alaska), Brennan Lagasse (recently returned to Lake Tahoe from the Arctic) and Clare Gallagher (from Colorado), as well as our friend Ben Hatchett, a climate researcher in Northern California/Nevada.
You can share your own experiences with lawmakers and urge them into action by joining the Adventurers for Climate Action campaign today!
Meanwhile, we’ve been staying busy this spring with ongoing winter travel planning and OSV use designation in California, among other things. Over the past couple of months, we filed an objection to the Stanislaus winter travel plan and participated in objection resolution meetings related to the Eldorado and Tahoe winter travel plans. Each of these plans has many positive elements, but through the objection process we hope to improve a few key shortcomings and help the Forest Service develop solid winter travel plans for the central and northern Sierra. We had similar objections to all three draft plans: we’re concerned about the designation of some high-value backcountry ski zones (and designated near-natural areas) for open snowmobile use, the failure to protect the non-motorized character and experience of the Pacific Crest Trail, and the failure to adequately address the Forest Service’s legal obligation to minimize over-snow vehicle impacts on natural resources and wildlife and on non-motorized activities.
Meanwhile, in Montana, forest planning on the Custer Gallatin is in full-swing. The Forest Service released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the revised forest plan in early March. The comment period ends June 6. There are few places in the country where world-class outdoor recreation opportunities overlap with a landscape as wild, and intact, as the Custer Gallatin. Through work in a variety of coalitions, we’re advocating for a vision for the forest that balances conservation, recreation, and wildlife values. Find out more and submit a comment online here.
In other policy news, the state of Utah has petitioned the US Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service to exempt Utah from the Roadless Rule, which rule happens to protect the majority of backcountry ski terrain in Utah. We’re working with Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, Outdoor Alliance, and our partners in Utah’s conservation community to push back against this attack on the Roadless Rule. You can help out by sending a letter to USDA Secretary Perdue and Under Secretary Hubbard using Outdoor Alliance’s online form. Perdue and Hubbard have been feeling the heat and haven’t responded to Utah’s petition, yet. Help us keep the pressure on.
Finally, I want to bring your attention to Minnesota, where the Trump Administration recently renewed federal leases for a sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Boundary Waters are an amazing place to visit in winter, providing endless opportunities to cross-country ski, showshoe, and winter camp in one of the quietest places in the country. This week, Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum introduced legislation compelling the U.S. Forest Service to complete a study on toxic mining near the Boundary Waters and halt mineral leasing in the watershed of the Boundary Waters until the study is complete. Our partners at Save the Boundary Waters are leading the charge to protect this special place, and you can get involved here.
We’ve updated the Bill Tracker page on our website if you’re interested in seeing what other legislation we’re supporting, and tracking, on the Hill this year. There are a number of good bills, including bipartisan legislation to establish full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Act, a House bill to protect the Arctic Refuge, and legislation to codify the Roadless Rule and put an end to state-by-state exemptions from the Rule.
That’s all for now!
Hilary Eisen, Policy Director
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