U.S. to restore protections for Alaska’s Tongass forest By Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday said it would propose to restore environmental protections to Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest temperate old growth rainforest.

The move is the latest effort to roll back a land-use decision made under former President Donald Trump. It reflects Biden’s growing emphasis on conservation over commercial development.

Last month, the administration had indicated it would seek to reverse a Trump policy that opened the Tongass to logging and mining.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would move to restore the Clinton-era Roadless Rule protections to the Tongass, conserving 9.3 million acres (3.7 million hectares) of the largest U.S. national forest.

The agency also said it would end large-scale old growth timber sales in the Tongass and focus resources on forest restoration, resilience and recreation.

The 2001 Roadless Rule banned logging, roads and mining in undeveloped forests. Alaska state officials petitioned the Trump administration to change the policy because they said the rule has cost Alaskans jobs.

On Thursday the state’s governor, Mike Dunleavy, criticized the Biden administration’s reversal.

“The Forest Service has already conducted a thorough analysis and determined that an Alaska-specific exemption from a one-size-fits-all roadless rule was fully justified,” Dunleavy said in a statement. “Narrow election results and political donations from environmental groups do not justify this federal agency’s policy flip-flop.”

As part of the announcement, the Agriculture Department said it would invest up to $25 million in the Southeast Alaska region to support economic opportunities and workforce development in industries such as fishing, recreation and renewable energy.

Environmental group the Alaska Wilderness League cheered the decision, saying the Tongass was critical to storing carbon and combating climate change.

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