Alaska is widely revered for its natural beauty, from glaciers to natural hot springs to the country's largest national forest, Tongass National Forest. Locals and wildlife activists, however, have been engaged in an ongoing battle with the Trump administration over the beloved forest, in response to one of the most highly contested rollbacks initiated in Trump's four-year presidency.
“The Trump’s administration’s ignored input from tribes and the impact on tribes who rely on the Tongass for hunting, gathering and fishing. It ignored the impact on fishermen, the tourist industry, and the impact on the climate for the whole world,” said Kate Glover, a lawyer from Earthjustice, as per The Guardian. “Essentially the decision did not make sense, it was arbitrary.”
The Tongass National Forest lawsuit aims to save the local wildlife, trees, and native tribes.
In October 2020, the Trump administration announced it would be rolling back environmental protections over Alaska's Tongass National Forest. Moving forward, as per the new ruling, the Tongass National Forest would be exempt from the protective 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which prohibited logging, road construction, and the installation of new roads through 9 million acres of the widely beloved forest. But now, local tribes, activists, and small businesses alike are fighting back.
As per The Guardian, indigenous Alaskan tribes, conservation organizations such as Earthjustice, and local small businesses are suing the Trump Administration to save the forest, which is considered to be the homeland of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian tribes. Deforestation would harm the tribes' cultures and food sources, it would endanger one of the most biodiverse national forests, and it would demolish what is considered to be responsible for absorbing massive amounts of CO2 from the environment.
“If the judge doesn’t overturn the government decision, our way of life will be destroyed,” said Joel Jackson, president of the Organized Village of Kake, according to The Guardian. “The Tongass has been our home for over 10,000 years, we need to protect what we have left.”
It is unclear when this lawsuit will go to court, but environmentalists and local Alaskans are hoping for the best.
Why did Trump decide to roll back protections over the National Tongass Forest?
Supposedly, the Trump administration wanted to rollback protections over the Tongass National Forest for economic reasons. According to NPR, Alaska's Republican governor Michael Dunleavy, and senator Lisa Murkowski both believe these 30-year-old protections have been "stifling the economy" as it prohibited logging and mining, two inarguably two dying industries, as the U.S. aims to transition to cleaner energy sources.
"Forests are our guardians in our fight against the climate crisis, and we need forest protections more than ever if we are to avoid the worst impacts of the growing climate emergency," said Greenpeace USA's Amy Moas, in a statement to NPR. "Greenlighting logging, road building, and other destructive development in previously untouched portions of our national forests will be catastrophic for our future — both increasing pollution and limiting our ability to reduce it."
Activists across the globe hope judges will see the lawsuit in their favor; however, if Trump ultimately gets his way, Joe Biden will still be able to overturn the movement. Fingers crossed.