The largest forest in Alaska, the Tongass National Forest in Juneau, Alaska, spans 17 million acres and is a vital part of the Alaskan environment. It is home to a variety of wildlife, such as bears, salmon, and breathtaking birds, as well as a diverse tree population that densely covers
Juneau’s land. These trees also serve as a blockade against global warming, absorbing and storing more than 19 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. The trees are vital and protected towards counteracting the rest of our carbon footprint.
However, the forest’s protection state has been in question lately. As a part of former President Trump’s legislation to reduce restrictions on certain parts of the environment in the goal of improving the nation’s economy, the Tongass was no longer considered a protected area. The goal was to begin deforesting the area so that the land’s existing natural resources could be used towards the mining and mineral industry.
One of the Biden administration’s goals is to continue protecting the land, so the Tongass forest was recently reinstated as a protected national forest under the 2020 Roadless Rule. The Roadless Rule stops the area from being altered to serve industrial purposes, such as clearing land to pave roads, harvest wood, or construct buildings. The only exception to this rule is if the land poses any threat to people in the case of a natural disaster, which the Tongass does not. For the Tongass, the Roadless Rule was implemented starting in January of 2023. The rule is also intended to protect indigenous peoples' land.
The Alaska state government did not respond well to this, as they saw the Tongass Forest as an economic opportunity. The governor, Mike Dunleavy, stated that Alaskans deserved the right to access the untouched opportunity within the Tongass forest. He is in agreement with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner John Boyle, who “believe(s) sustainable management… and preservation… can coexist in the Tongass3.” The state filed a lawsuit, believing that this violated their ability to take back federal land to support Alaska’s development, known as the Alaska Statehood Act. Without being able to economically benefit from the Tongass, Alaska is experiencing lower tax revenues, development, and increased costs on areas near the forest.
While there are many political and environmental dynamics to this case, it can be widely agreed that parts of our environment should be protected to combat the carbon footprint we leave behind. As responsible citizens, we can also take our own steps to be more mindful of our choices, a process that could eventually alleviate the pressure on protected lands around us.