Forest Legacies Programs

Forest degradation and deforestation contribute more greenhouse gas pollution globally than the entire transportation network.

Conversely, protecting and responsibly managing forests for their capacity to store carbon for long periods (centuries) along with their associated biodiversity and clean water is pivotal to stemming serious global warming problems. Thus, we seek to elevate the importance of intact forests and watersheds in the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska nationally and globally in climate change and land-use policies.

Because public lands policies depend to a great extent on which political party is in the White House or in the majority in Congress, we periodically revise program goals to be responsive to threats and opportunities on public lands. Our near-term goals are:

  • Transition logging on the Tongass Rainforest out of 2.5 million acres of old growth to about 100,000 acres of previously logged plantations within five years, thereby ensuring the Tongass will continue to sequester up to 8% of the nation’s globally warming pollution annually.
  • Defend public lands from inappropriate logging and fire management policies – Fire Ecology
  • During forest plan revisions, advocate for protection of ~1 million acres of at-risk legacy forests in the Pacific Northwest that store the equivalent of ~80 times Oregon’s global warming pollution.
  • Permanently protect 220,000 acres of a legacy landscape that may act as a climate refuge within the world-class Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion.

Trump Wants to Erase Protections in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, a Storehouse of Carbon

The old-growth rainforest is a major North American carbon sink. The Trump administration is moving to lift a Clinton-era ban on logging there. 

By Sabrina Shankman

Originally published Oct 16, 2019 at InsideClimate News

The Trump Administration wants to allow logging in previously off-limit areas of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service announced Tuesday, a move that could turn one of the nation’s largest carbon sinks into a source of new climate-changing emissions.

The old-growth temperate rainforest contains trees that are centuries old and play a crucial role in storing carbon. In a state that is synonymous with oil production, the Tongass National Forest represents the potential for natural solutions to help combat the climate crisis. 

A 9.4-million acre swath of the Tongass has been protected under a Clinton-era requirement called the Roadless Rule, which safeguarded 58 million acres of undeveloped national forest lands from roadbuilding, logging and mineral leasing. But the Tongass has long been an area of hot dispute.

The Forest Service is now moving to exempt the rainforest — and make tens of thousands of old-growth acres available to logging.

Scientists Call on Forest Service to Uphold Roadless Protections on Tongass rainforest, southeast Alaska

Media Advisory

October 16, 2019
Contact: Dominick DellaSala, dominick@geosinstitute.org; 541-621-7223

Re: Scientists Call on Forest Service to Uphold Roadless Protections on Tongass rainforest, southeast Alaska

Ashland, OR – 234 scientists joined a growing chorus of public opposition to the recently announced[1] Trump Administration’s plans to open up over 9.4 million acres of pristine roadless areas to road construction, logging, and mining on the Tongass rainforest in Alaska.

At 16.8 million acres, the Tongass is the premier national forest within the 131 national forest system. Towering old-growth rainforests soak up the equivalent of at least 8% of all the carbon stored in national forests, while the Tongass’ roadless areas represent 16% of all undeveloped areas within the entire national forest system. Free of development, these forests allow all five species of Pacific salmon to replenish; abundant deer, wolves, bears and other wildlife find sanctuary in them. The region’s thriving subsistence and fishery-based economies depends on old-growth forests and roadless areas remaining intact. The economic value of carbon stored in Tongass old-growth forests also may exceed timber in developing carbon offset markets[2].

According to Dr Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist, Geos Institute, the Tongass is one of the world’s last relatively intact temperate rainforests that is serving as North America’s “lungs,” soaking up vast quantities of carbon dioxide pollution from unprecedented burning of fossil fuels and global deforestation. Opening up these rainforests to developers is an international crisis that will bring global attention to the region not unlike what has happened in Amazonia.”

Alaska is experiencing one of the fastest rates of climate change in the nation[3], evident in retreating glaciers, melting permafrost, and displacement of native Alaskan villages.

The scientist letter concludes that the Trump administration must recognize that undermining the Roadless Rule in Alaska will only prove divisive, reversing a multi-stakeholder agreement[4] finalized during the Obama administration to protect roadless areas while rapidly transitioning the Alaska timber industry out of old-growth logging and into a newly emerging supply of young trees that can begin sustaining wood volume needs without destroying the rainforest.


[1]https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2019/10/15/usda-forest-service-seeks-public-comment-draft-environmental-impact
[2]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225169208_Effects_of_Management_on_Carbon_Sequestration_in_Forest_Biomass_in_Southeast_Alaska
[3]https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/science/2018/11/24/alaska-experiencing-some-of-the-most-extreme-climate-changes-in-the-united-states-says-new-report/
[4]https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/tongass/home/?cid=stelprdb5444388

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.

Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala’s letter to Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s Wildfire Council on how the state can best prepare communities for wildfires

I am a conservation scientist with over 200 peer-reviewed publications including books on forest-fire ecology, climate change, and forest management globally and in Oregon. I also served on the Oregon Global Warming Commission Task Force on Carbon, and the Governor’s Forest Carbon Stakeholder Group. I have reviewed the report from the mitigation subcommittee and I write to provide input and a summary of the scientific literature on wildfires in a changing climate to help with your deliberations.

Read the rest of the letter

Oregon Governor’s Council Projects Big Bill To Manage Wildfire

by Cassandra Profita | OPB Sept. 27, 2019 1:54 p.m. | Portland, Ore.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown got a progress report from her Council on Wildfire Response on Thursday, and it came with a hefty price tag.

The board is advising the governor on how to change the state’s wildfire policy in response to growing wildfire risks from overstocked forests, population growth and climate change.

Council Chair Matt Donegan told the governor that one of the major changes the board is recommending is increased investment in wildfire suppression. 

“It just stands to reason that in an era of climate change, in an era of fuel buildup and in an era of population growth and increased wildfire activity that we’re going to have to spend more resources suppressing fire,” he said.

He said the state will need an estimated $4 billion in “a multi-decade initiative that will involve significant state, federal and private investment” to reduce wildfire risks through actions such as logging overstocked forestland.

“That number feels a bit overwhelming,” Brown said in response. “But I think it’s critically imperative that we bite off a significant chunk right now — immediately.”

The governor said she wants to spend more to improve wildland firefighting capabilities, increase controlled burning and help communities live with more wildfire smoke.

“There isn’t really a fire season anymore. It’s year-round. It’s increasing in Oregon and frankly around the entire globe,” she said. “I obviously know we need to do things differently and we need different tools and we clearly need additional resources.”

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