Opinion: Trump and the U.S. Forest Service undermine the truth, putting Alaskan ways of life at risk
Photo by Wild Agency.
The Trump administration has ignored scientific truth from the beginning of his presidency, and at dire cost. Our governments late and lax response to the global pandemic has contributed to the deaths of over 200,000 Americans, and continues to put millions more at risk. This blatant disregard and open disdain for scientific truth has worked greatly in his self-interest, and with the election around the corner, he continues to stoke the flames of his campaign at the detriment of the citizens he claims to fight for. Most recently, along with the U.S. Forest Service, Trump set his sights on the Tongass National Forest.
At nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass is the largest national forest in America, and acts as a natural carbon filter equivalent to removing 650,000 cars off of the road annually. It is home to approximately 70,000 people in 32 different communities, including nineteen federally recognized tribes. The Tongass is vital to fighting climate change and essential to the Alaskans who live there, and at the order of the Trump administration, the Forest Service has just undone environmental protections that have protected the land for nearly 20 years.
The 2001 Roadless Rule virtually ended all logging and road building\reconstruction in over 58 million acres of undeveloped national forest land. These protections were met with massive public support and involvement nationwide, and Alaskans made their voices heard as well, sending in over 1.6 million letters on the issue. Contrarily, the results of the U.S. Forest Service’s most recent Environmental Impact Statement for the Alaska Roadless Rule lazily presents dishonest and misleading results, which have allowed them to exempt the Tongass from further protections, opening the door to logging and mining industries. Sen. Dan Sullivan and the Forest Service claim these industries will bring economic revitalization to the Alaskan economy, when in reality fishing and tourism are the economic powerhouses of the Southeast region. They provide good-paying, sustainable long-term jobs, supporting a combined $2 billion dollar economic impact, while timber and mining industries have proven themselves as sinkholes for taxpayer money and negative for the natural environment.
Trump’s contempt for scientific data has cost Americans greatly, and we may lose an irreplaceable landscape and carbon sink because of it. We as citizens deserve proper and honest representation that is responsive to our concerns. The inspiring work of Alaskans to continue to protect the Tongass National Forest represents the importance of Americans to assert ourselves and protect our own common interests. The actions of the Forest Service and the Trump administration aim to make these efforts feel futile and discourage people from asserting their concerns, but we all have a say and can make our voice heard. Please get out and vote to protect the treasures that truly do make our country great.
Noah Hospodarsky lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Cora Dow, a senior at Sitka High School, gave an incredible testimony at the U.S. Forest Service Roadless Rule Subsistence hearing in Sitka on November 12, 2019. She’s shared it with us, so we all can draw inspiration from her words in writing our own comments.
Read Cora’s full testimony below:
My name is Cora Dow, I am a senior at Sitka High School, and my family relies on a subsistence lifestyle that would be greatly affected by Alternative 6.
The justification used by the Department of Agriculture is that logging will provide economic benefits and that roads for the logging will connect communities. However, both of these are completely inaccurate.
First of all, the Tongass economy is not dependent on logging. It’s dependent on fishing. According to the SeaBank annual report, seven out of the top 100 fishing ports by value in the entire country are Southeast Alaskan communities. Sitka’s seafood port alone makes a net value of $75,400,000 and is ranked as number 10 in the country. A huge amount of this value depends on intact watersheds. Also, subsistence fishermen rely on fish for a huge portion of their food. My family depends on subsistence hunting and fishing every year, as do most families who live in the Tongass rainforest. Why would we trade people feeding their families for access to old growth timber for out-of-state logging companies?
In addition to being dependent on fishing, tourism makes up a large portion of Southeast Alaska’s economy. Southeast Alaska hosts two-thirds of all state visitors, making it the most visited region in the state. The southeast conference’s 2017 annual economic report identified the tourism industry as Southeast Alaska’s top private sector industry in terms of both jobs and wages. Pristine and remote locations are the basis of this entire industry. No one wants to come to Southeast Alaska to drive down a logging road, boat past giant clear cuts, or wade through polluted waters. Our economy is dependent on the protection of our intact wilderness.
Lastly, I would like to dispel a point that the USDA keeps using. Removing the roadless rule will not provide more opportunity to harvest energy or connect communities. There are exemptions under the current roadless rule for clean energy, connecting communities, hatcheries, utilities, and even mining. 57 projects under these exemptions have been proposed, and none have been rejected. Additionally, the draft environmental impact statement itself states that logging roads will be decommissioned after use, so even those roads won’t be of any use to the public for subsistence hunting.
The only possible justifications for passing the full exemption are extremely short sighted. We need to take into account our unique economy and subsistence needs, and protect it to the fullest extent possible.
Feel free to draw inspiration from Cora’s words!