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.

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.

Alaska fishermen fight for logging limits

By Marc Heller, originally published on August 22, 2019 at E&E News

More than 100 people who operate commercial fishing boats in southeast Alaska urged the Trump administration not to ease limits on logging in roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest, saying opening those areas could negatively affect salmon.

In a letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen yesterday, the fishing operators asked officials to delay releasing a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed Alaska roadless rule until October, citing the industry’s busy summer season.

“We depend on the forest, we are important stakeholders, and in the summer we are fully engaged in earning a living. If the comment period occurs during the summer months, we will effectively be precluded from participating,” they said.

In addition, they asked for a roadless rule that “prioritizes protecting and sustaining the Southeast salmon resource and its habitat in perpetuity.” That would include phasing out old growth, clear-cut timber practices, they said.

New Alaska roadless rule threatens Tongass deer

By Marc Heller, Published August 19, 2019 at E&E News

CRAIG, Alaska — A dwindling deer population is about to become a flashpoint in the debate over easing logging restrictions in the nation’s largest national forest.

Conservationists and Alaska Native tribes say deer — a big part of tribes’ diets — are in decline on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass National Forest due to past timber industry practices. They plan to make that a rallying cry in uniting tribes against the Trump administration’s proposal to ease limits on logging in roadless areas of the national forest.

“Our deer suffer from logging,” said Clinton Cook Sr., president of the Craig Tribal Council, representing a community of about 400 people. Past clear-cutting created open landscapes where trees regenerated so thickly that deer can’t navigate the woods, a condition called stem exclusion that affects as much as million acres of forest around tribal lands, tribal officials said in an interview at their offices.

Trump’s trade war tests Alaska’s struggling timber industry

By Marc Heller, originally published Friday, August 16, 2019 at E&E News

KETCHIKAN, Alaska — The Trump administration’s trade war with China is hitting Alaska’s timber industry where it may hurt most: in the younger trees that everyone seems to agree are the future of the business.

China’s 20% tariff on U.S. timber is retaliation for similar levies the administration placed on Chinese goods. And while Chinese officials spoke earlier this week of trying to reach a middle ground in the broader trade battle, people close to the timber industry in southeast Alaska say they’re not sure the region’s mills that ship there can quickly recover when the battle settles.

That could throw off plans to transition out of old-growth timber harvesting in the Tongass National Forest, a practice that’s unpopular with conservation and environmental groups, as well as Alaska Native tribes, but maintains support from the state’s political leaders.

Conservationists promote the Tongass as bulwark against climate change

Conservationist Dominick DellaSala asks can the Tongass save Alaska?

By Peter Segall, Originally published Friday, August 16, 2019 at The Juneau Empire

Can the Tongass save Alaska from climate chaos?

Dr. Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist at the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, asked that question to the small audience of about two dozen gathered in the Mendenhall Valley Library Tuesday evening.

He speaking at at an event hosted by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council about the role that old-growth forest like the Tongass National Forest can play in combating climate change.

Temperate rain forests like the Tongass soak up an incredible amount of carbon and play a pivotal role in keeping the planet’s temperature at sustainable levels. In answer to his own question, DellaSala said that the Tongass can play a part in saving Alaska from climate chaos, so long as it continues to exist in its present state.

That may be a problem as the Alaska’s logging industry is eager to get at the hundreds of thousands of acres of old-growth forest in Southeast. “Old-growth” forests are not simply forests with old trees, but forests with a complex array of features which create a unique ecosystem which have remained mostly undisturbed by humans.

These Alaska Natives want to upend Trump’s pro-timber rule

Marc Heller, E&E News reporter

Originally published at E&E News Greenwire, Wednesday, August 14, 2019

KAKE, Alaska — To the 569 residents of this island community in the Tongass National Forest, picking blueberries may offer more promise in the long run than harvesting trees.

So when the Department of Agriculture announced last year that it would consider scrapping rules that protect stands of old-growth forest, they demanded meetings with the agency.

“We said we wanted to be consulted,” said Mike Jackson, a leader with the Organized Village of Kake (OVK), in the tribal offices adorned with Native carvings and paintings. The OVK is a federally recognized tribe and has lived here, 100 miles southeast of Juneau, for generations. The Alaska Natives have seen the forests cut over in decades past.

“This is a huge decision to be making,” he said. “They’re just rolling with it.”

The tension between the Organized Village of Kake and USDA is part of a broader negative reaction in southeast Alaska to the department’s proposal to rewrite rules that protect roadless areas of the Tongass from timber harvest.

Proposed Tongass change could speed young-growth transition

By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter, Originally published at E&E News on July 26, 2019

The Forest Service is proposing to open an additional 1,144 acres of the Tongass National Forest to harvesting of young-growth timber, opening a debate about where the transition away from old-growth timber should be focused.

In a proposed amendment to the forest management plan for the Tongass — the nation’s biggest national forest at nearly 17 million acres — the agency said it would allow more harvesting of young growth on a landscape known as moderate-vulnerability karst, which is typically underlain by a soluble rock like limestone.

Moderate-vulnerability karst doesn’t have caves or sinkholes — which are typically found in high-vulnerability karst landscapes — and the Forest Service said those areas can handle management activities such as timber harvesting. In addition, the agency said, regulations have been written in an inconsistent way that would allow cutting of trees in those locations if they were old growth.

“Analysis of old-growth harvest on moderate vulnerability karst has demonstrated that the standards in place were sufficient to maintain the natural processes and productivity of karst lands. This amendment will align the standards for young-growth and old-growth harvest on moderate vulnerability karst,” the Forest Service said in a news release.

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