(CN) — The Biden administration on Wednesday restored protections in the Tongass National Forest, banning almost all new road construction and industrial logging within the largely pristine rainforest located in the Alaskan panhandle.
The nearly 17-million-acre Tongass is the nation's largest national forest as well as the largest intact tract of coastal temperate rainforest on Earth. The remote area is home to a panoply of wildlife including grizzly bears, bald eagles and wolves. The Tongass also functions as one of the world's largest carbon sinks, storing more carbon than any other part of the country.
“The Tongass Roadless Rule is important to everyone,” said Organized Village of Kake President Joel Jackson in a written statement. “The old-growth timber is a carbon sink, one of the best in the world. It’s important to our way of life — the streams, salmon, deer and all the forest animals and plants.”
The administration's decision is the latest twist in a 20-year back-and-forth battle over the Alaskan rainforest, which has pitted logging interests and Republicans against environmentalists and Democrats.
First adopted in 2001, the so-called "roadless rule" banned industrial logging and road construction in most parts of the national forest system, with a handful of exceptions. Tongass National Forest was initially included in the rule, but was exempted by the George W. Bush administration, protected by the Obama administration but then exempted once again in 2020 by the Trump administration, which canceled an application to cover 9 million acres of the Tongass by the rule. Wednesday's decision by the Biden administration restores the roadless rule in the those 9 million acres.
“Restoring the Tongass’ roadless protections supports the advancement of economic, ecologic and cultural sustainability in Southeast Alaska in a manner that is guided by local voices,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a written statement in 2021, when the administration took the first steps toward restoring the rule. “The proposed rule is considerate of Alaska’s Tribal Nations, community input, and builds on the region’s economic drivers of tourism and fishing.”Follow @hillelaron
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