As Amazon wildfires blaze, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest faces a wholly different threat: corporate exploitation. President Donald Trump wants to open Alaska’s 16.7 million acre Tongass National Forest for logging, energy and mining projects. The Tongass is the country’s largest national forest, encompassing much of the southeast Alaskan panhandle, including the capital city of Juneau.

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Environmentalists have long fought business interests in the Alaskan forest. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration passed the “roadless rule,” barring commercial logging and prohibiting roads from being built without Forest Service approval. Obama’s administration saw the finalization of a plan to eliminate logging old-growth in the Tongass by 2016.

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But many Alaskans don’t appreciate government intervention in their state. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the state’s entire congressional delegation want Trump to reverse the roadless rule. They see it as a barrier to business and a threat to southeast Alaska’s economy. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski told the Washington Post, “The timber industry has declined precipitously, and it is astonishing that the few remaining mills in our nation’s largest national forest have to constantly worry about running out of supply.”

Environmentalists point out that the Tongass’ old-growth trees provide critical habitat for Sitka black-tailed deer, black bear and the Northern Goshawk, which is a bird of prey. Chris Wood, president of Trout Unlimited, is worried about Alaska’s wild salmon, which spawn in the Tongass. The salmon, rivers and trees have a symbiotic relationship. If the trees go, the $986 million salmon industry could also be threatened. Wood said that Forest Service officials have “realized the golden goose is the salmon, not the trees.”

Not all of Alaska’s business owners are there to exploit resources. The adventure tourism sector relies on intact forests. Dan Blanchard’s company, UnCruise Adventures, takes 7,000 guests on small-ship Alaskan wilderness cruises annually. He’s seen dramatic improvements in the forest since the 1980s and doesn’t want that to be reversed. “The demand for wilderness and uncut areas have just dramatically increased,” Blanchard told the Washington Post. “Our view here is, there are very few places in the world that are wild. Here we have one, in southeast Alaska, and it’s being put at risk.”

Via Washington Post

Image via Bob Familiar