The Trump administration's removal of safeguards in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the world's biggest intact temperate rainforest, was reversed by the Biden administration on Thursday.
The United States Department of Agriculture announced its intention to "repeal or replace" a Trump-era rule that obliterated Tongass protections by lifting Clinton-era logging restrictions across 9.3 million forested acres and reclassifying 188,000 acres immediately suitable for harvesting, including 168,000 acres of old-growth timber.
Repealing Trump's Law
According to the release, the government said it will stop large-scale commercial harvesting of old-growth timber in the forest and instead "focus management resources to support forest restoration, recreation, and resilience, including for climate, animal habit, and watershed improvement," according to the release.
In addition, old-growth tree harvesting would be limited for communal and cultural purposes, such as the construction of totem poles and boats.
In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "This strategy will help us map the way to long-term economic possibilities that are sustainable and respect Southeast Alaska's unique cultural history and beautiful natural resources."
According to the agency, it also intends to invest $25 million in community and economic development.
Protecting "America's Amazon"
Protecting the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, dubbed "America's Amazon" by many environmentalists, is seen as crucial to combating global climate change. According to the US Department of Agriculture, it stores roughly 8% of total carbon isolated in forests in the Lower 48 states and an incredible 44 percent of all carbon stored in national forests in the US.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in the office asking the Department of Agriculture to investigate Trump's reversal in Tongass. It was excellent news for environmentalists, who had been dismayed in previous months by the administration's lack of a firm commitment to stop cutting mature and ancient temperate forests in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
In May, Beverly Law, a professor emeritus at Oregon State University and a specialist on the forest carbon cycle, told HuffPost that, "Once they are gone, these are trees that have stored [carbon] for hundreds of years, it will take that long to acquire it back. It also implies that the majority of that carbon will return to the atmosphere in the coming decades. And that isn't going to get us any closer to our climate targets. On the contrary, it's only going to make things worse."
The news comes only one day after Brazilian researchers discovered that portions of the Amazon rainforest in South America are now spewing more carbon dioxide than they absorb, indicating that the world's biggest rainforest has hit a tipping point. Biden has attempted to exert pressure on Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's far-right president, to reduce deforestation in the Amazon, only for the Brazilian administration to bring out the US' own history of heavy logging.
Importance of the Tongass
The Alaska Wilderness League's Andy Moderow said in a statement Thursday that "we shouldn't be contemplating the ongoing clearcutting of a natural climate solution that exists here in our own backyard" since "we are suffering climate consequences more intensely than others."
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