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Opinion: Why We Should All Act to Protect the Tongass Rainforest

Situated+in+Southeast+Alaska%2C+the+Tongass+National+Rainforest+is+the+United+States%E2%80%99+largest+carbon+sink+and+is+home+to+31+different+Alaskan+communities.+Photo+courtesy+of+the+Sitka+Conservation+Society.
Situated in Southeast Alaska, the Tongass National Rainforest is the United States’ largest carbon sink and is home to 31 different Alaskan communities. Photo courtesy of the Sitka Conservation Society.

By Kate Guiney

As our country continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration has taken advantage of our weakened state to reduce environmental regulations and attack the well-being of U.S. citizens through our land, air and water. Now more than ever, we must fight to keep the climate crisis at bay and maintain healthy, stable environments for our citizens.

Kate Guiney is a rising second-year at Grinnell College. Photo contributed by Kate Guiney.

Situated in Southeast Alaska, the Tongass National Rainforest is the United States’ largest carbon sink and is home to 31 different Alaskan communities. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Tongass holds over 600 million tons of carbon, about 8% of all carbon stored in U.S. forests. This is equivalent to half the country’s 2017 carbon production. The Tongass plays a key role in the prevention of climate change through carbon sequestration.

The Tongass is currently protected by the 2001 Roadless Rule, which protects national forests in 38 states by preventing road-building and industrial-scale clearcut logging. The Trump Administration plans to exempt the Tongass from this rule, putting our largest intact national forest in danger as well as the communities that rely on it.

This action would threaten the way of life and economy of all Alaskans, especially Indigenous tribes. The forest maintains water quality and provides a habitat for the food on which Southeast Alaskans depend. It also provides a buffer against the spread of disease, crucial as we see our government’s weaknesses revealed in protecting the country from mass health crises.

The loss of the Roadless Rule in the Tongass would result in an increase of up to 5 billion metric tons of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, an effect that would be felt globally. In an agricultural state such as Iowa, drought caused by climate change becomes more destructive to our land and economy every year. Increasingly erratic weather patterns pose a threat to global food security. In urban areas, polluted air and water increase the risk of developing severe health issues, disproportionately affecting BIPOC. Climate change disproportionately affects marginalized groups and exacerbates inequality and oppression. The country is already seeing the negative impacts of the climate crisis. We cannot wait until it’s too late to protect our land and citizens.

The loss of the Roadless Rule in the Tongass would result in an increase of up to 5 billion metric tons of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Photo courtesy of the Sitka Conservation Society.

During a commenting period in late 2019, 96% of 250,000 public comments were in full support of maintaining the Roadless Rule on the Tongass. Tribal governments in Alaska have come together to oppose reducing regulations on the Tongass. In spite of overwhelming public opinion, the Forest Service has decided to remove the Roadless Rule during this pandemic. Now more than ever, Alaskans depend on the land around them for economic and food security. The Trump administration’s disregard of Indigenous voices and public opinion is an affront to democracy, perpetuates our country’s history of violence against Indigenous peoples, and furthers systemic racism.

As students of Grinnell College representing all 50 states and countries across the world, we cannot let this threat go unchallenged. Your voices and actions matter. For U.S. citizens, call and write your senators and representatives to voice your concerns about the reduced regulations on the Tongass Rainforest and the need to conserve national lands. Tell Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the US Forest Service to pause the rulemaking process during this pandemic. Vote in upcoming elections. We all have a responsibility to protect public land and those who rely on it, and to maintain the integrity of our democracy.

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