Tongass National Forest Receives Needed Protection


Photo credit: Sierra Club

Sometimes news hits late on a Friday, and just about everyone misses it. Yet last Friday news got our attention right away: A district judge overturned a Bush Administration exemption by ruling that "a nationwide ban on logging in roadless areas of National Forests should be extended to the Tongass [National Forest]."

This should be major news to everyone who loves forests and wants to keep our most ecologically significant national forests free of commercial logging and development—and that certainly rings true for Elizabeth Wagner.Wagner grew up in Juneau, Alaska, surrounded by the Tongass National Forest. As a kid, she would go hiking and camping in old-growth forest that started just two blocks from her house.

"It's a landscape that people from all over the world dream of experiencing someday, and I got to grow up right in the middle of it," said Wagner, who now works for the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.

Most may be surprised to hear that the forest so far north is actually a rainforest, but that's exactly what the Tongass is. "The locals are used to the soggy days, and we know that the rain sustains the richness of the forest. It is wild and vibrant and all different shades of green."

At over 17 million acres, the Tongass is our country's largest and wildest intact forest. Home to 29% of the world's remaining unlogged coastal temperate rainforests, the forest still has some five million acres of old-growth—some of the country's last remaining.

The Tongass also contains unparalleled habitat for grizzlies and spawning salmon, protects vital watersheds for Alaskan communities, and stores huge amounts of carbon.

"For most people in Southeast Alaska, maintaining the integrity of the forest is not only a quality of life issue to preserve our recreational opportunities—it's the right choice economically too," said Wagner.

"The forest sustains the fish and wildlife that locals depend on for both subsistence and commercial purposes, and it's essential to preserve the ecosystem to ensure the sustainability of those resources. Wild Alaska salmon are Alaska's best export to the rest of the world, and those fish need a healthy forest to survive."

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule exists to protect critical national forests lands from destructive energy development, logging and road building. The roadless rule works—it has protected millions of acres of forests across the country, ensuring that both wildlife and American families have space to live and explore.

Wagner echoed that sentiment. "It's so important to maintain the beauty of the land, because tourism is one of our biggest industries, and people don't come to see clearcuts; they come to see one of the last truly wild places on earth. This ruling was a victory for the Tongass and all Alaskans—and really, all Americans."

Read more about Tongass Forest:
Obama Approves Logging in Biggest US Rainforest - Is the Green Honeymoon Over?
There Goes the Forest: Bush Administration Opens 3 Million Acres to Logging
Court Halts Loggers From Advancing Further Into Alaska's Tongass National Forest

Tags: Conservation | Deforestation