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Protect the Tongass

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Biden should go farther here and name the Tongass a National Monument. That’s really the only permanent answer here. But if the nation is to protect its wild lands and move forward on the most natural carbon capture technology we have, protecting the Tongass is a top priority, however it can be done.

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it has banned logging and road-building on about nine million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, aiming to settle a two-decade battle over the fate of North America’s largest temperate rainforest.

The new rule reinstates protections in the pristine Alaskan back country that were first imposed in 2001 but stripped away by President Donald J. Trump in 2020.

Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, said the effort would protect cedar, hemlock and Sitka spruce trees — many of them more than 800 years old — that provide essential habitats for 400 species of wildlife, including bald eagles, salmon and the world’s greatest concentration of black bears. The towering trees also play an essential role in fighting climate change. They store more than 10 percent of the carbon accumulated by all national forests in the United States, according to the government.

In addition to prohibiting road construction — a first step toward new logging — the United States Forest Service plan also puts an end to large scale logging of old growth timber across the forest’s entire 16 million acres.

“As our nation’s largest national forest and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass National Forest is key to conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis,” Mr. Vilsack said in a statement. Restoring the road prohibitions “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,” he said.

Tongass National Forest, which has been called “America’s Amazon,” is also home to rare earth minerals, making it a place of intense interest to state and local leaders who say it should be mined to create jobs and bolster Alaska’s economy.

The frontier mentality of Alaska makes this outrageous–it’s basically the politics of the ranchers who want to turn the Amazon into cattle farms and shoot those who resist. But there’s little outside of the politics of a very red state to suggest this is a bad idea. It’s win-win for Biden. He’s not winning Alaska anyway, this gives him a ton of credibility in the environmental community, and it’s the morally correct thing to do.

I should say as well that I realize that as a scholar of the relationships between the labor and environmental movements, specifically around issues in the Pacific Northwest forest, that I am somewhat understanding of the position of Alaskans here, but the Tongass is just too valuable for the rest of the world and the jobs are so automated now anyway that to cut it all down wouldn’t even employ that many people. It just doesn’t make sense.

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