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.
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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.
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.
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.
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Also published at Truthout
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.”
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.
Dominick DellaSala took some time to talk with Rick Ungar about the Tongass and the president’s proposal to open the forest up for more logging. Listen to the segment here.
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.
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.
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.