Tongass Rainforest

Preserving Old Growth Forests while Supporting Livelihoods in the Tongass Rainforest

Recognizing the importance of Tongass old-growth rainforests in sequestering the equivalent of over 8% of the nation’s annual emissions, the US Secretary of Agriculture issued a directive to the Forest Service in 2013 to transition away from old-growth logging and into ‘suitable’ young- growth acres that can support the timber industry in perpetuity. Suitable young-growth acres are those considered to be assessible by currently open Forest Service roads (no road building required) and have relatively low ecological values due to non-regulated pulp and paper harvest regimes that occurred decades ago. With the best information on hand at the time, the directive from the Secretary assumed that it would take at least 16-years of continued old-growth logging to achieve a transition. Since then, Geos Institute has spearheaded innovative research to greatly accelerate the transition to young-growth logging in the next half decade. We focused on defining a pathway to move from a ‘wall of litigation” resulting from continued old-growth logging to a “wall of wood” through suitable young-growth acres available to support industry.

In 2015, we conducted the most intensive in-field timber inventory ever on the Tongass. This resulted in identifying a young-growth transition that could regrow an ecologically and socially responsible forest-products industry in a half decade while protecting millions of acres of at-risk old-growth forests. A year later, we took the lead in helping the Forest Service to secure Congressional funding to inventory over 25,000 acres of suitable young-growth forests that built on our initial results. We are now actively engaged in securing important funding for a Tongass-wide young-growth manufacturing and marketing study to be completed by 2021, a final step in demonstrating how the Forest Service can rapidly transition out of old-growth logging.

In 2019 we opened an office in Juneau to increase our presence and reach with decision-makers.

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

Also published at Truthout

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.

As Amazon Forest burns, Dunleavy and Trump eye Tongass National Forest

Dunleavy and federal government want to repeal forest protections

By Michael S. Lockett, Originally published August 29, 2019 at the Juneau Empire

The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States, at roughly 16 million acres, or slightly more area than West Virginia. It’s also one of the largest remaining temperate rainforests in the world, protected by rules prohibiting logging.

But Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Trump administration reportedly want to change that.

“Our general belief is if the Trump administration is moving in this direction, we think it’s very much appropriate,” said Dunleavy’s spokesperson, Matt Shuckerow, in a telephone interview. “Without timber in the United States, I don’t know how we build a home, how to build construction.”

A report by the Washington Post indicated sources within the Trump administration confirmed the president’s desire to roll back protections called the “Roadless Rule,” which exempts more than 9 million acres of Tongass from development. Nearly 6 million further acres are designated as wilderness, barring them from development in perpetuity. 

Trump pushes to allow new logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

By Juliet Eilperin and Josh Dawsey. Originally published August 27 at the Washington Post

President Trump has instructed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to exempt Alaska’s 16.7-million-acre Tongass National Forest from logging restrictions imposed nearly 20 years ago, according to three people briefed on the issue, after privately discussing the matter with the state’s governor aboard Air Force One.

The move would affect more than half of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, opening it to potential logging, energy and mining projects. It would undercut a sweeping Clinton administration policy known as the “roadless rule,” which has survived a decades-long legal assault.

Trump has taken a personal interest in “forest management,” a term he told a group of lawmakers last year he has “redefined” since taking office.

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