Tongass National Forest roadless areas hold keys to Alaska’s climate future

For immediate release December 16, 2019

Contacts: Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist, Geos Institute, Ashland, OR; dominick@geosinstitute.org; 541-621-7223; Dr. Brian Buma, Assistant Professor, University of Colorado, Denver; brian.buma@ucdenver.edu; 303-315-7677

Ashland, OR – A new analysis of roadless area values on the Tongass National Forest, southeast Alaska, documents the enormous amount of carbon stored in the Tongass old-growth rainforest as key to Alaska’s climate future but at-risk to development by the Trump Administration’s proposed rollback of 9.2 million acres of roadless protections.

With mapping help from Audubon Alaska and funding from The Wilderness Society, researchers mapped carbon data obtained from the Forest Inventory and Analysis program of the US Forest Service, the USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station, and other published sources across the Tongass. The team then distilled that information for areas currently conserved by the Roadless Rule the Trump Administration is seeking to overturn in Alaska. Researchers report exceptionally high carbon density for the Tongass rainforest on par with temperate rainforests in Chile and Tasmania, the world’s most carbon dense terrestrial carbon sinks.

“At a time when thousands of scientists have sounded the alarm that the world is in a state of emergency from escalating climate disruptions and mass global extinctions of both plants and animals, the Trump Administration is opening up America’s carbon-version of Amazonia,” said lead author, Dr. Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist, Geos Institute.

Dr. Brian Buma, University of Colorado, added “The Tongass is a unique national environmental treasure, integral to our national carbon balance. It is far more valuable as a carbon storehouse and on carbon markets than in its timber, which is slow growing, remote, and expensive to access relative to other parts of the country. It is irreplaceable and takes centuries to recover when harvested. Extraction is short sighted and economic development should take more creative lines, like carbon marketing and tourism.”

The report was sent to the Forest Service – along with a letter signed by 234 prominent scientists – requesting that the agency suspend efforts to lift roadless protections.

The report summarized unique national and global values at risk, including:

  • The Tongass is part of a global network of temperate rainforests that make up ~2.5% of the world’s total forest coverage but that store a disproportionate amount of carbon critically important in climate regulation.
  • The Tongass is one of only 4 other temperate rainforests world-wide that is still largely intact, which is crucial for hundreds of fish and wildlife species seeking refuge from Alaska’s extreme climate impacts.
  • The Tongass occurs within the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest bioregion (Coast Redwoods to Alaska) that collectively comprise over one-third of the world’s entire temperate rainforest biome.
  • Carbon stored in Tongass roadless areas has an estimated value of $234 million to $2.2 billion depending on offset markets and amount of logging in the next 100 years.  Notably, Sealaska Native Corporation in southeast Alaska recently sold >$100 million of carbon offset credits to help BP offset 11 million metric tons of carbon emissions ($12 per ton of carbon; equivalent to offsetting 2.4 million car emissions in a year).
  • The Tongass may function as a climate refuge for species facing more extreme climatic conditions in the interior of Alaska and coastal rainforests further south if managed to protect old-growth forests and roadless areas.

“Carbon dioxide emissions are insidious and cumulative – we cannot see their immediate effects – but everyone on the planet – especially future generations – will eventually be affected severely by the unprecedented accumulation of fossil fuel emissions globally, deforestation in the tropics, and development of Tongass roadless areas unless we cut all emissions drastically,” said DellaSala. “This is Alaska’s best and final shot at preparing for climate change but the Forest Service has completely undervalued the climate importance of Tongass roadless areas and is squandering it away to developers.”

Here are the values provided to the Forest Service by Audubon Alaska mapping and US Forest Service datasets.

 

 

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