President Joe Biden’s administration announced, July 15, that it will ban all large-scale old growth timber sales in the Tongass National Forest in order to address climate change concerns. The plan includes reinstating the 2001 Roadless Rule in the 9.2 million acres of the Tongass.
Rather than allowing Alaskan loggers to harvest this renewable resource, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it will work with environmentalist groups and others to focus on forest restoration, recreational activity, climate concerns and wildlife habitat.
The move is a stark reversal of former President Donald Trump’s approach. Last October, Trump exempted portions of the Tongass from the Clinton-era roadless rule which had hindered industry and lead to job losses in Alaska.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a July 15 statement saying Biden’s actions will fill Alaska’s unemployment lines and wipe out small businesses.
“The Forest Service has already conducted a thorough analysis and determined that an Alaska-specific exemption from a one-size-fits-all roadless rule was fully justified,” Dunleavy said of Trump’s actions last year. “Narrow election results and political donations from environmental groups do not justify this federal agency’s policy flip-flop.”
The governor said Alaska’s Southeast communities deserve the chance to work.
“We have the resources,” he said. “We just need the opportunity.”
USDA will only permit limited “micro-old-growth sales” for community consumption and cultural uses such as totem poles, canoes and tribal art.
Alaska’s Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige said the Tongass National Forest was “created to serve multiple uses, including a sustainable timber industry.”
“Arbitrary reimposition of a roadless rule will deprive Southeast Alaska communities of a diversified economy that includes working forests as well as tourism and fishing,” Feige said.
Under Biden’s plan, the USDA will only permit limited “micro-old-growth sales” for community consumption and cultural uses such as totem poles, canoes and tribal art.
In justifying its actions, the USDA said its decisions are “in line with the Biden-Harris Administration’s approach to climate-smart forest management,” and “climate-resilient forests that provide ecologic, social and economic benefits and support rural community well-being.”
The July 15 announcement added that the USDA “touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways.” It concludes by proclaiming that the federal agency will fundamentally transform America’s agricultural landscape through federal funding for clean energy projects and farmer’s markets, while being committed to “equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America.”
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Specifically, for Tongass, the USDA will work with Alaska Native groups and other partners to dole out $25 million in federal spending for various projects, including global climate change initiatives.
The new strategy is coined “The Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy.” It entails federal collaboration with local environmentalist groups, tribal entities and the U.S. Forest Service.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he looks forward to “meaningful consultation” over the next 30 days.
Dunleavy said he is willing to collaborate, but not to the detriment of Alaskans.
“Let me be clear, where the State of Alaska can partner with the federal government on efforts that make the lives of Alaskans better, Washington D.C. will not find a more willing partner,” he said. “But where there will be disagreement, my administration will make the feeling of this state known.”