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Rescinding Roadless Rule in Alaska Could Boost Mining on Sensitive Wildlands

State, industry eye cache of rare earth elements under Bokan Mountain in Tongass National Forest

By Paul Koberstein and Jessica Applegate

The Bokan Mountain mine would be built on top of a defunct uranium mine that the US Environmental Protection Agency has designated as a Superfund site. Photo by Jesicca Applegate.

The Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest, stretching from Northern California into Alaska, is known best for things that grow above the ground — like the world’s tallest trees, and in its waters, like the legendary salmon runs. But we know far less about treasures lurking underground, like the vein of rare earth elements tucked away deep within Alaska’s Tongass National Forest – America’s largest national forest.

This cache of highly valued minerals is buried under Bokan Mountain, a small peak at the remote southern tip of Prince of Wales Island, the southernmost island in the Southeast Alaskan archipelago and the fourth largest island in the United States.

Ucore Rare Metals Inc., a Nova Scotia-based company, owns the rights to build a mine at the site. In a recent letter to Uncore shareholders, the company’s president and CEO Jim McKenzie, says it has located 5.3 million tons of “the most valuable, sought after, strategically important, and hard-to-obtain” varieties of rare earths in Bokan. That makes it one of the largest lodes of rare earth elements ever found in the United States, according to the US Geological Survey.

Continue Reading at Earth Island Journal

Third-generation logger plans for a transformation

By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter

HOONAH, Alaska — If young-growth timber catches on in the Tongass National Forest, people like Wes Tyler may lead the way.

The owner of Icy Straits Lumber and Milling Co., in the city of Hoonah (population 776) on Chichagof Island, Tyler has built a business making log cabins, pavilions, tabletops and other furniture.

Logs he’s harvested from the Tongass have built the Icy Straits Fish Cannery in Hoonah, Valley Medical Care clinic in Juneau and Forest Service Research Lab at the University of Alaska, Southeast.

Mills like Tyler’s show the potential for a young-growth industry in Alaska, said Catherine Mater, a forest products engineer from Oregon who visits Alaska regularly.

Old or young growth? Tongass logging at a crossroads

By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter

PRINCE OF WALES ISLAND, Alaska — Thousands of acres in southeast Alaska is ready for a second wave of logging, but is the timber industry ready to cut it?

That question lurks in the background as the Forest Service and political leaders face a series of decisions that will shape the future of the Tongass National Forest, one of the world’s last intact temperate rainforests and the biggest national forest in the United States.

A recent inventory of young growth in the nearly 17-million-acre Tongass shows enough supply to replace what the Forest Service harvests from old-growth forests, but officials and timber companies still say a full transition to a young-growth industry is 20 years or more away.

Trump Doubles Down on His Assault on Alaska’s Old-Growth Forests

US Forest Service’s multiple plans to log vast swathes of Tongass National Forest faces stiff opposition

By Paul Koberstein & Jessica Applegate
Originally published October 7, 2019 at Earth Island Journal

DURING THE LAST HALF of the twentieth century, loggers cut down a hefty slice of old-growth forest blanketing Prince of Wales island, the fourth largest island in the United States located at the southern end of Alaska’s massive Tongass National Forest. And now the Trump administration is coming back for the rest.

The US Forest Service plans to roll back protections on the most pristine parts of the national forest and chop down another quarter million acres of the island’s old growth forest — generally, trees more than 150 years old. Old-growth timber is often favored over younger timber because of its more attractive appearance, but cutting it down threatens the island’s wildlife and the subsistence lifestyles that depend on it.

Continue reading at Earth Island Journal

Here’s to a new way to manage forests

By Dominick A. DellaSala Oct 5, 2019

Originally published October 5, 2019 at the Santa Fe New Mexican

Santa Fe Municipal Watershed at Black Canyon thinned on steep slopes in early 2000s and burned twice by the Forest Service – critics of the project say this is no longer a functional pine-mixed conifer forest. (Photo by Dominick A. DellaSala)

Santa Fe is blessed with magnificent national forests, wild rivers and some of the cleanest airsheds in the nation. Many people are here to be part of, connect with and heal through nature. It’s only natural that there is public outcry when forests are cut down or burned.

I was asked recently by local conservationists to take a hard look at the Santa Fe National Forest from the perspective of forest-fire ecology. I toured Santa Fe’s municipal watershed at Black Canyon and burned areas outside Los Alamos. I viewed forest “restoration” in the Jemez Mountains. What I witnessed was ill-informed tinkering with forest ecosystems that likely will continue for decades under the U.S. Forest Service’s new management plan currently in public review.

fire increasing study MDPI2019

Megafires Not Increasing: New Research Shows Large High-Severity Fires are Natural in Western Forests

fire increasing study MDPI2019

In September 2019, Dr. Dominick DellaSala (Geos Institute) and Chad Hanson (Earth Island Institute) published a peer-reviewed study in the science journal Diversity disputes the widely held belief that “megafires” in our national forests are increasing, preventing forests from re-growing, and that logging is necessary to prevent these wildfires. Read the Press Release

“This is the most extensive study ever conducted on the high-severity fire component of large fires, and our results demonstrate that there is no need for massive forest thinning and salvage logging before or after a forest fire” – Dominick DellaSala

Links to the study

Press Coverage

Forest thinning projects won’t stop the worst wildfires

So why is California spending millions on them?

A recent Los Angeles Times project explores the effectiveness of firebreaks across California, with satelite and drone footage showing the devastation caused by recent firest, including the Camp fire in 2018. 

Post-conflagration photos of Paradise reveal row after row of houses reduced to heaps of ash, while nearby trees and vegetation stand green and largely untouched by flame. In the Camp fire, the primary fuel was houses, not vegetation.

Jack Cohen, a retired Forest Service research scientist who studied ignitions and wildfire spread, said he’s been asked to explain the “unusual pattern of destruction” in Paradise.

His response: “It’s not strange and unusual — it’s typical. Every investigation I’ve done comes up with that pattern.”

“We do fuel breaks because the premise is we’ve got a wildfire containment problem” when in fact, Cohen argues, we have a home ignition problem.

Until firefighting agencies recognize that, he said, their efforts are doomed to “further failure at ever increasing cost.”

The Tongass deserves a better path forward

By Dominick A. DellaSala  
Originally published 9/11/2019 at the Anchorage Daily News

In response to former Gov. Frank Murkowski’s Sept. 6 op-ed calling for a full exemption of the Tongass National Forest from roadless protections, its remarkable how much has changed since he was governor. Instead of regressing to the heyday of rampant old-growth logging, no longer acceptable in Alaska or the nation, there is a path forward that reduces controversy, sustains jobs, saves roadless areas and slows down climate chaos by transitioning to young-growth forests. And as far as access issues he is concerned about, the Forest Service already has exercised its discretion to approve 67 projects in roadless areas that involved tree removal and/or road construction. So, the Trump Administration’s roadless rollbacks is completely unnecessary.

There is a better way forward to avoid the kind of global outrage now directed at massive logging in Amazonia, as both the Amazon and the Tongass play vital roles in slowing down runaway climate chaos as the planet’s “lungs.”

It’s time to get it right with Tongass, timber, carbon and climate change

By Catherine M. Mater and Dominick A. DellaSala

Opinion article published August 29, 2019 in the Juneau Empire

A perfect storm is brewing in Southeast Alaska and all weather vanes are pointing to the Tongass National Forest — the “Amazon” of America that serves as lungs of the nation by absorbing and storing the equivalent of almost 10 percent of all the carbon retained in U.S. forests. Alaska has been in the national news with coverage of dried-up salmon spawning grounds due to unprecedented drought, and dwindling deer populations from logging old growth on Prince of Wales Island; all while the White House and Alaskan officials double down on eliminating protections for Alaska’s roadless old growth stands.

Understanding the connection between the Tongass, continued timber production, climate change and the real need for creating economic development in the state has never been more urgent. But these seemingly disparate silos offer a comprehensive solution.

While the state’s forest products industry that relies on old growth timber has sharply declined, a new one is emerging focused on transitioning out of old growth logging to reliance on Tongass young growth — 55-75-year-old trees — timber supply.

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