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.
A 2014 study of second growth timber on the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska shows that the U.S. Forest Service can transition out of old growth logging in 5 years, and shift timber sales into young growth located in previously logged and roaded areas.
As Dominick DellaSala stated, “We have a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to stop the needless logging of old growth in one of the world’s last relatively intact rainforests, with the added benefit of keeping carbon in the forest and out of the atmosphere.”