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How Did We Get Here? The Politics Behind the Tongass Attack and Next Steps for Preservation

by Lauren Elizabeth Wiggins

January 21, 2020

This directive to fully exempt a national forest from the 2001 National Roadless Rule is unprecedented. The Tongass has been protected for decades. And yet, Trump and his administrative cronies still seek a rollback on environmental protections. 

Bald Eagle at Annan Creek in the Tongass, Alaska.

Climate-critical forests are being destroyed all over the world. Here in the U.S., Trump is trying to open up the Tongass, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest to clearcuts and logging. 

Trees line the shore of Salmon Lake south of Sitka.

Months ago, Trump directed USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to open up comments to exempt the Tongass from the 2001 National Roadless Rule — an initiative that has helped keep this forest protected for two decades. 

The Tongass is the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people from time immemorial. Representatives from these nations have called out this proposal as “ignoring the sovereign Tribal governments.”

With over 17 million acres of lush, ancient, old-growth forest and pristine flowing waters, the Tongass is home to rare Archipelago wolves, Sitka black-tailed deer, Grizzly bears, red salmon, otters and Humpback whales. 

Humpback whales breaching in the Tennakee Inlet in the Tongass National Forest.

Standing trees, some of which are over 1000 years old, are critical for the stability of aquatic habitats and overall ecosystem health. Trump is aiming to cash out this globally important forest. His cruel policy would compromise the shimmering red salmon that flow through river beds, as well as beavers and orca – all for the sake of logging in the “crown jewel” of our public lands system.

This directive to fully exempt a national forest from the 2001 National Roadless Rule is unprecedented. The Tongass has been protected for decades — in substantial part by the 2001 Roadless Rule, banning the development of logging roads. And yet, Trump and his administrative cronies still seek a rollback on environmental protections. 

Clearcuts on public land in the Tongass National Forest above Forest Service Road 21, North of Hydaburg, Prince of Wales Island.

There is a particular crony at the head of it all: poultry oligarch, Sonny Perdue, one of the many self-interested operators in the Extinction Administration’s Cabinet. 

I know Mr. Perdue not only as the Secretary of Agriculture, but also as a former constituent when he was governor of Georgia. While in office, Perdue signed into law the nation’s most strict voter ID law, which still largely affects black and liberal-white neighborhoods to this day

When it comes to the Tongass, it seems that Mr. Perdue is up to his usual brand of politics: prioritizing corporate cash grabs over the public interest. 

This economic justification is suspect, given that logging accounts for less than one percent of Alaska’s current economy, whereas sectors that could be harmfully impacted by the destructive policy, like tourism and fishing, which account for over 25% of current GDP. 

Brown Bears in Annan Creek in the Tongass National Forest.

Tourism, a significant and growing portion of the region’s economic pie, could take a big hit, with clearcuts impacting the breathtaking sites and rare wildlife that draw visitors into Southeast Alaska. 

What can we do to stop this? 

So far, Greenpeace activists like you have sent over 100,000 public comments to the US Forest Service! Comments are closed, but you can still make your voice heard using toolkits from our partner in advocacy for the Tongass, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

  • Write a letter to the editor. The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council has made it quick and easy to draft a letter to your local media outlets — and they’ll even send it for you!
  • Call Sonny Perdue to let him know that we will not stand for destruction of the Tongass.

We know Trump is gutting the Endangered Species Act, and now he wants to give away one of the most vital and unique national forests to logging companies. We need your voice in the fight to preserve the Tongass. 

To learn more, check out these amazing organizations that are also doing great work around the Tongass and throughout Alaska: 

Lauren Elizabeth Wiggins

By Lauren Elizabeth Wiggins

Lauren E. Wiggins is the Online Content Specialist for Greenpeace USA, based in Oakland, CA.

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