Scientist warns logging Tongass would contribute to climate change

Battle grows over governor’s defense of the 2020 Tongass Exemption Rule

A research scientist with the Earth Island Institute in Berkeley, California, says that logging of mostly old-growth timber in Tongass National Forest will have an alarming impact on global climate change.

“Tongass logging of mostly old-growth rainforest is estimated to add the equivalent of 50,000 vehicle emissions each year, topping out by mid-century at a cumulative total of over 9 million vehicle emissions equivalents from 100 years of past and future logging,” said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at Wild Heritage, a project of the Earth Island Institute. DellaSala’s warning came in a prepared statement for a news conference in Juneau on Wednesday, March 30, hosted by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

His findings support what Southeast Alaska fishermen, business owners, tribal leaders and many in the outdoor recreation industry and in conservation groups have said for years about the importance of the 16.8-million-acre national park, which contains one of the last relatively intact temperature rainforests in the world.

Their position puts SEACC at odds with a group of 23 parties supported by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who moved to intervene on March 23 in defense of the 2020 Tongass Exemption Rule to the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, commonly known as the Roadless Rule.

The group includes former Gov. Frank Murkowski, the cities of Craig and Ketchikan, Southeast Conference, Southeast Alaska power companies, several Chambers of Commerce, the Alaska Miners Association, construction businesses and logistics firms.

Dunleavy issued a statement in support of the Tongass Exemption Rule, saying that the Tongass holds great economic opportunity not just for Southeast Alaska, but for the whole state. “From resuming our timber industry to attracting tourism, this region has the potential to create good paying jobs and it is my administration’s intent to defend our state’s rights and improve access to public lands,” Dunleavy said. The governor contends that logging in the Tongass is done to some of the strictest environmental standards in the world, with the state’s Natural Resources Department monitoring state timber sales for compliance with the timber practices act and protection of watersheds.

For 20 years, under the 2001 federal Roadless Rule, some of the most pristine areas of the forest were protected, but last October the Trump administration opened up 9.2 million acres of the Tongass to industrial logging and development. That decision, SEACC officials said, stands among the most dangerous public lands actions of the last four years, and goes against the will of local business leaders, Southeast Alaska tribes and residents for whom the forest is home.

Putting more emissions in the atmosphere during a global climate emergency flies in the face of warnings of scientists to drastically cut emissions by 2030 to avoid calamitous effects on the climate, the SEACC statement said.

Twelve Alaskan tribes petitioned the federal government last July to restore full protections to the Tongass and to create a traditional homelands conservation rule.

SEACC also called on the Biden administration to commit to protect the Tongass as part of the nation’s climate commitment.

“As the United States is drafting its updated commitments for how to reduce emissions and move the goals of the Paris Agreement forward, it is a no-brainer to specifically reference keeping America’s largest carbon sink, the Tongass, protected,” said Meredith Trainor, executive director of SEACC. “This new research shows that protecting the Tongass is an unrivaled opportunity to begin to move the needle on climate not next month, not next year, but today.”