At nearly 17 million acres, Tongass National Forest is North America’s last great wilderness rainforest. Home to brown bears and salmon, the forest is part of the “Inside Passage,” the gateway to recreational Alaska.
Tongass National Forest is also our nation’s biggest carbon sink, absorbing up to 8% of our pollution. Recently the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that if left alone, Tongass could absorb up to 27% of our pollution by 3000. President Biden is set to restore the “Roadless Rule” (rescinded in 2020 by the Trump administration), designed to ban road construction and restrict industrial logging for public lands, potentially saving 185,000 acres of ancient old-growth forest.
Re-enacting this rule would be a win, but clear-cut logging will continue in Tongass through a complicated shell game where old-growth federal forest is traded for land owned by state or private institutions (i.e. the Alaska Mental Health Trust). Once that land leaves federal protection, the Roadless Rule no longer applies.
Logging The Planet’s Lungs: How Land Swaps Fuel Exploitation of Protected Forest Land is a story in collaboration with CoastAlaska, a nonprofit that serves six associate NPR stations of southeastern Alaska. Jacob Resneck, the regional news director, will report on what people are hearing and seeing. The project will guide the reader through data visualizations, satellite analysis, and deep stories to help them see the ways the rules are twisted for short-term timber profit, long-term environmental pain, and how even the “protections” in place sometimes aren’t enough.