The US Department of Agriculture announced this month an end to large-scale old growth timber sales in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, “returning stability and certainty” to the conservation of 9.3 million acres of the world’s largest temperate old growth rainforest.
The USDA will also move to restore the two-decades-old ‘Roadless Rule’ protections at Tongass, which were stripped in 2020 by the Trump administration.
In this unique landscape, the Pacific Ocean moisture collides with the towering Coast Mountains on the Canadian border to create the lush greenery and thick old-growth forest that spans 500 miles at the Southern tip of the state. About the size of West Virginia, the land is filled with islands and salmon streams, where granite cliffs drop into deep fjords.
“We look forward to meaningful consultation with Tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations, and engaging with local communities, partners, and the State to prioritize management and investments in the region that reflect a holistic approach,” said US Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“This approach will help us chart the path to long-term economic opportunities that are sustainable and reflect Southeast Alaska’s rich cultural heritage and magnificent natural resources,” he added.
There were tentative logging plans for three major harvests of more than 15,750 acres on Forest Service land, but the environmental analyses were never completed, so the Biden administration officials said these sales would not take place.
USDA’s actions to preserve the temperate rainforest are “critical for carbon sequestration, addressing the climate crisis and maintaining the productivity and health of the region’s fisheries and fishing industry,” said a department statement. “It stores more carbon than any other national forest in the United States.”
The Tongass National Forest has international significance as the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, representing nearly a third of all such remaining old-growth forests. It holds more biomass per acre than any other rainforest in the world and is home to more than 400 species – including 5 species of salmon that return to spawn in the Tongass each year.
Small and micro old growth sales will still be offered to the indigenous community for cultural uses such as totem poles and canoes.