WASHINGTON – Days before the Presidential election, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) finalized plans to repeal environmental protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the United States’ single most important national forest for carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation. On Wednesday, the USDA released its final rule to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule, opening up all 16.7 million acres to logging, roadbuilding, and further development.
The 2001 National Roadless Rule established prohibitions on road construction in U.S. National forests, ending decades of extractive logging practices. In October 2019, the USFS released its plan to repeal the Roadless Rule in the Tongass. This exemption came after decades of public support for the Roadless Rule, and continuous advocacy to keep the Roadless Rule intact from Alaska-based and national advocacy groups.
Existing within the traditional territories of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples, the Tongass is the world’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforest, storing vast amounts of carbon. Climate scientists agree, forests are critical for stabilizing the climate, sequestering carbon, and providing refuge for unique bio-diverse ecosystems. Maintaining the Tongass ecosystem is not only critical for mitigating the impacts of climate change, but the Tongass also provides food security for Indigenous communities, habitat for over 400 species of land and marine wildlife, and economic opportunity to thousands of residents.
In response to the decision, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) Indigenous Tongass Representatives living in the Tongass and WECAN Executive Director issued the following statements:
“My name is Kashudoha Wanda Loescher Culp; I am Tlingit, Indigenous to the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, a hunter, fisher and gatherer of Nature’s gifts. I am also the Tongass Coordinator for WECAN International, speaking out against the disproportionately negative effects on my community caused by corporate industrial dominance over state and federal governing to accommodate industry’s mass taking of natural and public resources on Indigenous lands. The Trump Administration’s final decision to repeal the 2001 Roadless Rule is an underhanded misuse of congressional authority and the battle will go on — full court press. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened eyes to the filthy effects industry has on our lives and all living things. When “the people” become invested, communities have the power and the say to control threatened environments and economies in our midst. We will continue to rise in defense of our homelands. All Indigenous voices from the Tongass must be heard, and around the world Indigenous peoples must be included at the decision-making table when building the solutions to everyone’s very survival.” Kashudoha Wanda Loescher Culp, Tlingit, activist, and WECAN Tongass Coordinator
“My name is Rebekah Sawers, I am Yupik and my family is from Hooper Bay, Alaska. I am speaking on behalf of most Alaskans when I say that the Roadless Rule should not have been repealed. Currently the Roadless Rule has been in place for 20 years, protecting the trees from mass logging, and allowing the forest to heal. It is important that this land stays wild and free. I am speaking out not only on behalf of my daughter, but I am fighting for all the other 70,000 brothers, sisters, grandfathers and grandmothers who live in the Tongass. I support the NO ACTION alternative and I will say it loud and proud that we are protecting our forest and we must say it, write it, email it, and share it, to our senators and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. We need to make it known what they are doing is wrong and keep them accountable! We Can!” Rebekah Sawers, Yupik, student and WECAN Tongass Representative
“The final decision to repeal the Roadless Rule is outrageous and not representative of the people. I am Tlingit of the Tongass Forest. As People of the Forest, People of the Sea, we must speak out on behalf of our children’s grandchildren to protect this land we call home and the climate. Impacts from industrial logging operations of the last century by all actors, disproportionately and negatively impacted the land and waters we Tlingit have sustained successfully throughout time.” Adrien Nichol Lee, Tlingit, President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 12, WECAN Tongass Representative
“I am an Indigenous women of the Tlingit Nation of the L’uknaxh.ádi, the Coho Salmon Clan under the Raven moiety from the Frog House. I am deeply rooted to this land for thousands of generations as a steward of this land. We have been here since time immemorial our elders say, and I follow the footsteps of my ancestors. In the Tongass, there are innumerable fish and game populations, and unparalleled recreational and business opportunities. Fishing and tourism are billion dollar industries, which Southeast Alaska economies are based upon. Removing the Roadless Rule in the Tongass affects our cultural and Indigenous rights to protect Haa Aani, Our Homeland. I am a strong Tlingit woman standing with the Tongass, speaking for the Aas Kwaani, the Tree People, and I will continue to fight for the Tongass despite the government’s decision to side with industry over people. This is our way of life to fight for our Indigenous rights as Human Beings that live by the Forest and Tide, the Tlingit.” Kari Ames, Tlingit, Alaska Native Voices Cultural Heritage Guide, WECAN Tongass Representative
“As forests across the America’s burn, the last thing we need to do is destroy old-growth forests in the Tongass Rainforest — one of the best defenses against the climate crisis in the United States. To open the forest to industrial logging and development will destructively impact the Indigenous and local communities who depend on the Tongass for survival. As we face the multiple crises of COVID-19, climate disruption and ongoing colonization policies, we must stand with Indigenous women forest protectors fighting for their homelands, and defend the Tongass like all of our lives depend on it, because they do.” Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International