JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) – President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Earth Day, aimed at protecting the nation’s forests.
“We’re going to work with state, local and tribal governments to map, catalog and then conserve old-growth forests on our public lands — we’re going to do that,” Biden said at a Friday signing ceremony in Seattle. “It is forests that store and sequester incredible amounts of carbon and help us fight climate change.”
Biden has been criticized for not doing enough to tackle climate change with several bills stalled in Congress. In Alaska, legislative leaders and the state’s congressional delegation criticized the president for an energy policy seen as targeting the state’s resource industries.
Matt Jackson, climate program manager at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said it was exciting to hear the president talk about carbon sequestration and the value of old-growth forests, as in the forest. National Tongass, for fishing and tourism.
“We hope this executive order is a stepping stone to long-lasting, long-lasting protections for all old-growth and mature forests,” Jackson said.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources released a statement, saying state officials are “pleased” that the Biden administration wants to work with the State of Alaska in certain areas related to forestry like the mitigation of forest fires. But, there are differences of opinion between the Biden administration and Governor Mike Dunleavy’s administration when it comes to old or mature trees.
“While the trend of larger, older trees growing in young, growth-managed forests continues, mature trees, once they reach harvest age, must remain available for harvest,” the statement from the state Department of Natural Resources said. “We must commit to managing the forests, instead of preserving all the mature trees.”
A 2021 study found that Tongass stores more than 40% of the carbon held by the country’s forests. More than five million acres of old-growth “productive” forests remain in the forest.
Environmental protections in Tongass have swayed through decades of legal battles and different presidential administrations.
The Roadless Rule was first issued in 2001 under President Bill Clinton, conserving nearly 60 million acres of US forests. The rule was effectively overturned for the Tongass in 2020 by President Donald Trump.
Supporters of the development have argued that Trump’s plan would open more than 9 million acres of the 17 million acre forest to tourism, mining and logging, creating jobs and opportunities economic. Critics have expressed concern that a significant increase in logging would negatively impact existing subsistence fishing, hunting and tourism.
Biden announced a plan last June to restore roadless rule for Tongass. A public comment period ended in January and a final decision is expected later this year for the country’s largest forest.
Since the Roadless Rule was issued in 2001, every Alaska governor has opposed it for the Tongass, arguing that it helps end logging in Southeast Alaska and that ‘it costs jobs. Dunleavy said it was a “regulatory relic” from the 1990s.
“Alaskans deserve access to the resources Tongass provides — jobs, renewable energy resources and tourism, not a government plan that treats humans in a working forest like an invasive species,” Dunleavy said. in a statement prepared last year.
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