In the latest of the Trump administration environmental protection rollbacks, 17 million acres of the Alaskan Tongass National Forest have been opened up for logging and other development. This is more than half of one of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests. This forest is also home to century old trees, a rich wildlife, and serves as a massive carbon sink, storing carbon that would otherwise be in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. One scientist described the Tongass as “the lungs of North America…It’s America’s last climate sanctuary.”
Previously some of these lands had been preserved as undeveloped “roadless” areas to protect the ecology of the forest for the sake of the Alaska Native tribes that live there, as well as the local wildlife and local economies that rely on the forest. But this swift move shows just how quickly decades can be erased when these decisions are made by politicians, not the people who live there or have fought to keep the forest intact.
With the backdrop of the collapsing economy, this move is seen as one way to allow loggers to extract some wealth out of the untouched trees. Southeast Alaska’s economy has suffered immensely because of the pandemic, and in a capitalist economy, short term economic growth matters more than long term survival.