The long list of environmental regulation reversals under the Trump administration just got a little longer. Trump is rolling back protections for Alaska's Tongass National Forest, opening the vast rainforest up to development, mining, and logging, which translates to deforestation and devastation for the forest's wildlife and Indigenous Peoples.
The Tongass National Forest is a 17 million-acre forest representing about 90 percent of the southeastern panhandle of Alaska, making it the entire U.S.'s largest national forest. Most of the forest is temperate rainforest, and it's filled with a wide variety of wildlife.
Trump's USDA is removing protections from Tongass National Forest.
On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the USDA published a document announcing a new rule exempting Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (known as the 2001 Roadless Rule). The rule prohibits logging of trees in the forest, construction of new roads going through the forest, and reconstruction on existing roads that go through the forest (with certain exceptions) in a 9 million-acre area of the forest.
Now, after 19 years, these rules no longer apply in that 9 million-acre area of Tongass National Forest. That means developers are now allowed to knock down trees, construct roads, and mine throughout the area.
“The Department believes that increasing flexibility for timber harvest and road construction and reconstruction on the Tongass can meaningfully addresses local economic and development concerns while balancing conservation needs of the forest,” a spokesperson for the USDA told The Independent.
The spokesperson added that the decision to turn over the 2001 Roadless Rule had “significant support from the State of Alaska and the Alaska Congressional Delegation and robust consideration of multiple alternatives and stakeholder views”.
The key phrases here are "economic concerns" and "stakeholder views." Activities like logging trees (which will mostly be exported to Asian nations, according to The Guardian) and mining are done with a sole goal of making a profit. The Tongass National Forest deserves to be protected, not developed.
This will hurt Tongass National Forest's Indigenous peoples.
Tongass National Forest is home to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Peoples, according to Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International). When commercial logging arrived in Tongass in the 1950s, it deeply hurt the forest itself, sacred Indigenous sites, and the local Indigenous Peoples who rely on the forest's ecosystem for survival.
"If the federal government is successful in opening up the Tongass to more catastrophic, industrial-scale logging, they will not only destroy the forest and further harm our global climate, but they will actively contribute to the ongoing genocide of Indigenous Peoples whose identities, cultures, and livelihoods are integral to the forest," WECAN said in a statement, in hopes of preventing the Trump administration from moving forward with this rollback.
Trump recently released an environmental video that many are calling propaganda.
The @realDonaldTrump Administration has accomplished historic feats for conservation, securing the largest investment in our national parks and public lands, opening 4 million acres to new hunting and fishing opportunities, and recovering a record number of endangered species. pic.twitter.com/LoOuCPqJXm— Secretary David Bernhardt (@SecBernhardt) October 27, 2020
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, just a day before the Roadless Rule was turned over, Trump's Department of the Interior released a campaign video titled "President Trump's Conservation Record." Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, tweeted the video out, claiming that the Trump administration has "accomplished historic feats for conservation."
The commercial is filled with B-roll footage and claims about Trump's achievements in the environmental preservation sector over the past four years, seemingly designed to help his supporters feel empowered to troll the comments sections of articles that claim Biden is a superior climate candidate. (Something we're all too familiar with here at Green Matters.)
However, the video, which a former Interior employee from the Obama administration called propaganda, leaves a lot left unsaid.
Trump has rolled back dozens of environmental regulations.
Trump trying to frame himself as a man who cares about environmental protection the very same week that he reverses a massive environmental protection should make any American skeptical of trusting him. Don't forget to vote on Nov. 3.