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Today Alaska Native Tribes, businesses, and conservation groups filed a lawsuit to defend southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from destruction. The Trump administration sought to open millions of acres of forest for clear-cut logging and mining by exempting the Tongass from the federal Roadless Rule, jeopardizing majestic old-growth trees that serve as a critical buffer against climate change. Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council are representing the groups in their legal challenge.

The Trump administration made a reckless decision to roll back decades-old protections.

  • A law called the Roadless Area Conservation Rule shields about a third of our national forests from damaging new roads or clear-cuts.
  • In October, the Trump administration hurriedly finalized an exemption that removed these protections from the Tongass.
  • The rollback opened 9 million acres to new proposals for clear-cut logging, including centuries-old stands of old-growth trees.

Logging in the Tongass is a terrible idea.

  • The Tongass is the traditional homeland of Alaska Native Tribes, and many Indigenous communities in Southeast Alaska continue to rely on the Tongass for food and cultural traditions.
  • The forest sustains an endless variety of wildlife. It produces some 25 percent of West Coast salmon, and attracts millions of visitors from throughout the world.
  • The Tongass is also a climate powerhouse. Its centuries-old trees absorb at least 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the lower 48 states.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own analysis shows that the Roadless Rule exemption will not provide any new jobs or income from logging—but it will have negative consequences for Indigenous ways of life, the climate, and the tourism and fishing industries at the heart of the regional economy.  

The forest’s defenders say the Tongass is critical to their survival.

  • The Alaska Native Tribes represented in this lawsuit are the Organized Village of Kake, Organized Village of Saxman, Hoonah Indian Association, Klawock Cooperative Association, and Ketchikan Indian Community. “We are deeply concerned about the protection of the Tongass National Forest, where our ancestors have lived for 10,000 years or more,” says Joel Jackson, Tribal President of the Organized Village of Kake. “Our way of life depends on it.”
  • Local businesses are also joining the coalition of Tongass defenders, since the Tongass fuels nearly 12,000 jobs and nearly $500 million into the local economy. “Southeast Alaska’s future depends on safeguarding the natural capital that sustains our economy and cultural identity,” says Linda Behnken, commercial fisherman and Executive Director of Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “It is time for decision-makers to see the forest for more than the board feet.” 

Learn more about why protecting the Tongass matters:

The old-growth trees of the Tongass National Forest provide a major buffer against climate change.
The old-growth trees of the Tongass National Forest provide a major buffer against climate change. (JOHN HYDE / WILD THINGS PHOTOGRAPHY)