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States foreshadow legal battle over Trump’s Tongass rule

Originally published in E&E news by Marc Heller on December 17, 2019

Attorneys general in six states urged the Trump administration yesterday to withdraw a proposal to open more of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to logging, saying it violates several aspects of federal law.

None of the administration’s alternatives that would scale back the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule in the Tongass are lawful, said the officials, representing California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington state in a letter to the Forest Service that could telegraph future legal action.

“The undersigned States therefore urge the Forest Service to correct these fundamental legal defects or withdraw the Proposed Rule,” they said.

In their letter, submitted in advance of today’s deadline for public comments on the proposal, the officials criticized the administration for ignoring potential environmental impacts such as effects on carbon sequestration and climate change, and for inadequately consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries.

Guest View: Nature’s climate solution

Originally printed in Register Guard on December 14, 2019 by Dominick DellaSala, John Talberth and Ernie Niemi

Every fall, raging hurricanes and urban-wildfires remind us of the inconvenient truth: the climate is getting increasingly weird and dangerous.

Scientists have made it clear that if we hope to avoid escalating climate disruptions, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground while simultaneously drawing down carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere primarily from burning fossil fuels and global forest destruction.

In fact, experts have determined that the most effective strategy to remove carbon from the atmosphere at a meaningful scale is to protect the world’s remaining unlogged forests and replenish what has been lost by replanting trees and letting them grow to maturity. One study estimates that natural carbon solutions can provide more than one-third of the carbon reduction the world needs to meet the Paris Climate Agreements.

Tongass National Forest roadless areas hold keys to Alaska’s climate future

For immediate release December 16, 2019

Contacts: Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist, Geos Institute, Ashland, OR; dominick@geosinstitute.org; 541-621-7223; Dr. Brian Buma, Assistant Professor, University of Colorado, Denver; brian.buma@ucdenver.edu; 303-315-7677

Ashland, OR – A new analysis of roadless area values on the Tongass National Forest, southeast Alaska, documents the enormous amount of carbon stored in the Tongass old-growth rainforest as key to Alaska’s climate future but at-risk to development by the Trump Administration’s proposed rollback of 9.2 million acres of roadless protections.

With mapping help from Audubon Alaska and funding from The Wilderness Society, researchers mapped carbon data obtained from the Forest Inventory and Analysis program of the US Forest Service, the USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station, and other published sources across the Tongass. The team then distilled that information for areas currently conserved by the Roadless Rule the Trump Administration is seeking to overturn in Alaska. Researchers report exceptionally high carbon density for the Tongass rainforest on par with temperate rainforests in Chile and Tasmania, the world’s most carbon dense terrestrial carbon sinks.

“At a time when thousands of scientists have sounded the alarm that the world is in a state of emergency from escalating climate disruptions and mass global extinctions of both plants and animals, the Trump Administration is opening up America’s carbon-version of Amazonia,” said lead author, Dr. Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist, Geos Institute.

Dr. Brian Buma, University of Colorado, added “The Tongass is a unique national environmental treasure, integral to our national carbon balance. It is far more valuable as a carbon storehouse and on carbon markets than in its timber, which is slow growing, remote, and expensive to access relative to other parts of the country. It is irreplaceable and takes centuries to recover when harvested. Extraction is short sighted and economic development should take more creative lines, like carbon marketing and tourism.”

The report was sent to the Forest Service – along with a letter signed by 234 prominent scientists – requesting that the agency suspend efforts to lift roadless protections.

The report summarized unique national and global values at risk, including:

  • The Tongass is part of a global network of temperate rainforests that make up ~2.5% of the world’s total forest coverage but that store a disproportionate amount of carbon critically important in climate regulation.
  • The Tongass is one of only 4 other temperate rainforests world-wide that is still largely intact, which is crucial for hundreds of fish and wildlife species seeking refuge from Alaska’s extreme climate impacts.
  • The Tongass occurs within the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest bioregion (Coast Redwoods to Alaska) that collectively comprise over one-third of the world’s entire temperate rainforest biome.
  • Carbon stored in Tongass roadless areas has an estimated value of $234 million to $2.2 billion depending on offset markets and amount of logging in the next 100 years.  Notably, Sealaska Native Corporation in southeast Alaska recently sold >$100 million of carbon offset credits to help BP offset 11 million metric tons of carbon emissions ($12 per ton of carbon; equivalent to offsetting 2.4 million car emissions in a year).
  • The Tongass may function as a climate refuge for species facing more extreme climatic conditions in the interior of Alaska and coastal rainforests further south if managed to protect old-growth forests and roadless areas.

“Carbon dioxide emissions are insidious and cumulative – we cannot see their immediate effects – but everyone on the planet – especially future generations – will eventually be affected severely by the unprecedented accumulation of fossil fuel emissions globally, deforestation in the tropics, and development of Tongass roadless areas unless we cut all emissions drastically,” said DellaSala. “This is Alaska’s best and final shot at preparing for climate change but the Forest Service has completely undervalued the climate importance of Tongass roadless areas and is squandering it away to developers.”

Here are the values provided to the Forest Service by Audubon Alaska mapping and US Forest Service datasets.

 

 

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‘Hail Mary Pass’ in Alaska’s Tongass Forest Sets Up Carbon Clash

By Bobby Magill, originally published December 9, 2019 at Bloomberg Environment

Deep within the Tongass National Forest, the rain was just heavy enough to need an umbrella—and to wash away a light dusting of snow coating the mountains above Juneau, Alaska.

The low that mid-November morning was 38 degrees, 10 degrees above normal. That’s been the new normal in Alaska’s warmest year on record, slowing the salmon runs in what should be icy streams and killing an estimated 600,000 acres of towering yellow cedar trees.

“See all this rain? We should be having snow,” said Kenneth Weitzel, a natural resources specialist with the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, who’d just returned from a float-plane trip into the Tongass to collect water samples from streams. “Less snow, more rain—that’s the regime we’re changing into now.”

Would Trump’s reelection lead to climate catastrophe?

By Maxine Joselow and Adam Aton, E&E News reporters
Published: Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ask environmental experts what would happen to the global climate fight if President Trump were reelected, and the answer is often the same.

“God help us all,” said David Hayes, executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law.

“A second term would be a disaster in general,” said Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist of the Geos Institute.

“It will not be good,” said Andrew Light, who served as a senior adviser on climate change under former President Obama.

More than 11,000 scientists from around the world declare a ‘climate emergency’

Study outlines six major steps that ‘must’ be taken to address the situation.

By Andrew Freedman
Published November 5, 2019 at the Washington Post

A new report by 11,258 scientists in 153 countries from a broad range of disciplines warns that the planet “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency,” and provides six broad policy goals that must be met to address it.

The analysis is a stark departure from recent scientific assessments of global warming, such as those of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in that it does not couch its conclusions in the language of uncertainties, and it does prescribe policies.

The study, called the “World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency,” marks the first time a large group of scientists has formally come out in favor of labeling climate change an “emergency,” which the study notes is caused by many human trends that are together increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

For Many, Issue Of Logging In America’s Largest National Forest Cuts Deep

By Emily Kwong for NPR’s Short Wave, October 23, 2019

The Trump administration is seeking to lift federal protections on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, paving the way for possible timber harvests and road construction in the largest national forest in the U.S.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, called for the Tongass to be fully exempted from the Roadless Rule, a 2001 policy passed in the waning days of the Clinton administration.

The rule has long prohibited development on 9.2 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in the Tongass. The Forest Service’s proposal, if approved by the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, would eliminate that rule for the Tongass and convert 165,000 acres of old-growth and 20,000 acres of young-growth to suitable timber lands.

Experts claim admin used ‘misinformation’ to justify logging

By Adam Aton, Originally published by E&E News Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Trump administration says the Tongass National Forest is America’s best carbon warehouse — so it’s fine to increase logging there.

The Forest Service last week released a draft environmental impact statement for building new roads through the Tongass, a precondition for feeding more old-growth trees into southeastern Alaska’s struggling timber mills. Every 21st-century president has fought over whether to expand or curtail logging in the massive forest. Trump has gone the furthest; his Forest Service last week said the time had come for a final resolution and recommended opening almost the entire area to development.

At stake is the country’s largest forest. The Tongass is among the world’s best carbon sinks, and it’s one of the largest unfragmented ecosystems in North America. Its trees hold about 650 million tons of carbon, which roughly converts to half of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2017.

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