A Wildlife Article from All-Creatures.org

U.S. Forest Service Restores Critical Protections to Tongass National Forest

From Center for Biological Diversity
January 2023

The 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest, in the southeast corner of Alaska, is a temperate rainforest that draws visitors from around the globe and provides habitat for an abundance of wildlife, including grizzly bears, bald eagles and wolves.

Tongas Bears

JUNEAU, Alaska (Áakʼw Ḵwáan Territory)— In a win for Southeast Alaska communities, wildlife and the climate, the U.S. Forest Service today reinstated Roadless Rule protections across the Tongass rainforest in Southeast Alaska.

The move restores federal protection — from industrial logging and damaging road building — to just over 9 million undeveloped acres in America’s largest national forest.

The 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest, in the southeast corner of Alaska, is a temperate rainforest that draws visitors from around the globe and provides habitat for an abundance of wildlife, including grizzly bears, bald eagles and wolves. It is the ancestral homeland of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples. The Tongass also serves as the country’s largest forest carbon sink, making its protection critical for U.S. efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to set a global example.

Group statements:

“The Tongass Roadless Rule is important to everyone,” said Organized Village of Kake President Joel Jackson. “The old-growth timber is a carbon sink, one of the best in the world. It’s important to OUR WAY OF LIFE — the streams, salmon, deer and all the forest animals and plants.”

“The restoration of national Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass National Forest is a great first step in honoring the voices of the many Tribal governments and Tribal citizens who spoke out in favor of Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass,” said Naawéiyaa Tagaban, environmental justice strategy lead for Native Movement.

“The Tongass Forest is homeland to countless indigenous family species, intertwined as strong and delicate as a spider's circular web,” said Wanda Culp, Tongass coordinator for the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network. “The Tongass National Forest in Alaska is a national treasure, stored wealth, as is each of America's public forests. They should always be handled as the treasures they are — cherished and saved to enable our future generations to breathe fresh air. To BREATHE FREELY!”

“As a company that has been operating wilderness trips in the Tongass National Forest for over 20 years, we are overjoyed that the Roadless Rule will be restored to help protect this national treasure and to ensure healthy ecosystems continue to thrive in Southeast Alaska,” said Above & Beyond Alaska.

“As a business owner in Southeast Alaska, reinstating the Roadless Rule allows me to continue to take visitors from around the world to experience an intact ecosystem filled with salmon, wildlife, and old-growth forests — not clearcuts,” said Kevin Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Maritime Services. “It’s no wonder Juneau gets more than a million visitors a year.”

“There are two uncompromising realities for the survival of life on this planet: clean air and clean water,” said Teague Whalen, owner and operator of Tongass Teague. “My hiking tours into the Tongass begin at the literal end of our road, where the Roadless Rule reinstatement will ensure that the Tongass can continue to be a lasting carbon sink.”

“We are elated — literally floating on the news that the Roadless Rule is being reinstated in the Tongass,” said Stephen Van Derhoff, owner of Spirit Walker Expeditions. “As we kayak, hike, and camp our way through this incredible ecosystem, we're thankful for its protection and stewardship — and grateful for the opportunity to share the wilds of Southeast Alaska with guests from around the globe.”

“We applaud today’s announcement, because it recognizes that Southeast Alaska’s future is rooted in sustainable uses of the forest,” said Andy Moderow, Alaska director of Alaska Wilderness League. “The Roadless Rule protects Tongass old growth while also providing flexibility for community access, hydropower projects, utility connectors and other economic development projects when they serve a legitimate public interest. This decision puts public lands and people first, and we are grateful for the action.”

“Protecting the Tongass National Forest is an important step in recognizing the role of our forests in fighting the biodiversity and climate crises,” said Patrick Lavin, Alaska policy advisor for Defenders of Wildlife. “Today’s action helps restore responsible stewardship in the Tongass, as demanded by an overwhelming majority of people during the public process.”

“We applaud the Forest Service for making good on its commitment to tribes and to the climate by restoring the Roadless Rule across the Tongass,” said Kate Glover, senior attorney at Earthjustice. “This is great news for the forest, the salmon, the wildlife, and the people who depend on intact ecosystems to support their ways of life and livelihoods.”

“After eagerly awaiting this announcement, we’re overjoyed that full roadless protections have been restored to the Tongass National Forest,” said Ellen Montgomery, research and policy center public lands campaign director, Environment America. “Our largest national forest provides critical habitat for countless birds, salmon and its ancient trees absorb staggering amounts of carbon. The roadless area, 9.2 million acres, has been protected from logging since 2001.”

“We are proud to stand in victory alongside our Alaskan neighbors and other partners,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director at Friends of the Earth.

“The Forest Service deserves a lot of praise for today’s move,” said Garett Rose, staff attorney for the NRDC’s Alaska Project. “The region’s Native peoples depend on this vast wildland, and the public overwhelmingly wants it protected. The Tongass is a refuge for animals who are endangered in other places, not to mention five species of salmon. We need to keep old-growth forests like these intact all around the globe — and soon — to sharply reduce carbon emissions.”

“The Tongass is often referred to as ‘our nation’s climate forest’ for its ability to store carbon and protect us from the worst impacts of climate change,” Alex Craven, senior campaign representative at Sierra Club. “Thanks to today’s reinstatement of the Roadless Rule in Alaska, millions of acres of this valuable ecosystem will once again be protected — as will its supply of clean water, critical wildlife habitat, and carbon stores. We are proud to stand with Indigenous leaders and local Alaskans who have been championing the effort to restore these critical protections.”

“All of us at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and across Southeast Alaska are celebrating today’s announcement,” said Meredith Trainor, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “This long-awaited decision will protect over 9 million acres of Tongass National Forest land for years to come. Hundreds of thousands of Alaskans and Americans wrote, lobbied, rallied, and petitioned for the National Roadless Rule to stay in place on the Tongass. Today’s win is the work of hundreds and thousands of hands and voices, all lifted up to protect this most precious place that we love - the Tongass National Forest.”

“The Tongass' towering old-growth rainforests are tops among all national forests, and its roadless areas are 16% of the nation's total,” said Dominick A. DellaSala, chief scientist at Wild Heritage. “Even more impressive is this single national forest, the nation's largest, stores the equivalent of 20% of all the carbon in the entire national forest system, making it North America's best nature-based climate solution. What a glorious decision for Alaskans and all those that care about a safe climate and our natural legacy.”

“This is a long-awaited victory for the Tongass and for the Tlingit people,” said Meda DeWitt, senior Alaska specialist at The Wilderness Society. “Through the leadership of the Indigenous peoples of Southeast Alaska, we have made our voices heard and will see over 9 million acres of ancestral homeland and invaluable old-growth forest protected from harmful development.”

“After years of collective advocacy, we are celebrating this decision to protect the Tongass rainforest and our global climate,” said Osprey Orielle Lake, executive director of Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN). “Old-growth and mature forests are vital to climate mitigation, and we must take action to support protection of all old-growth forests like the Tongass, while we particularly listen to the leadership of Indigenous peoples when their forest homelands and territories are under attack. We look forward to the Tongass remaining protected for current and future generations, and to uplifting Indigenous leadership.”

“What a fantastic day for the old trees of the Tongass, Southeast Alaska communities, wildlife and our climate,” said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We're in the midst of climate and wildlife extinction crises, and the Tongass is a lifeline for our planet. The wild, mature and old-growth forests on the Tongass are carbon-storing champions that are worth more standing.”

“The Tongass encompasses significant Indigenous sites, important wildlife habitat, endless outdoor recreation opportunities, and critical commercial fisheries,” said Abby Tinsley, vice president for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “In addition, it plays a vital role in safeguarding clean drinking water and storing carbon.”

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