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Draft Tongass plan would boost CO2 emissions

Reprinted with permission from E&E News
Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter
Published:  Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A draft management plan for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest could cause annual releases equivalent to 4 million cars’ worth of carbon dioxide emissions over the next century, warns a new study.

The study by the Geos Institute, a conservation nonprofit organization studying forest systems and climate change, cautions that the plan’s emissions would run counter to the recent international agreement to address climate change.

The Tongass National Forest unveiled the draft plan in November to shift the forest from predominantly old-growth logging to predominantly young-growth logging. A unanimous recommendation by the Tongass Advisory Committee, which is made up of the timber industry, conservation groups, Alaska Natives and local government, formed the basis for the plan (E&ENews PM, Nov. 20, 2015).

The author of the new report, Geos chief scientist Dominick DellaSala, said he set out to determine whether the plan for the 16.8-million-acre forest was consistent with the recent international climate deal crafted in Paris, as well as with the Obama administration’s own climate change policies.

The Geos Institute report, which used published estimates of carbon stored in the Tongass, takes issue with the Forest Service’s plan to continue to allow old-growth logging as it transitions to young-growth logging. The plan calls for a transition period because of concerns about the salability of young growth.

Tongass Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart said that the changes would make the Tongass forest management program “more ecologically, socially and economically sustainable.”

But along with warning that the draft plan undermines the Paris climate agreement, the report from the Geos Institute says that the plan also runs counter to draft guidelines from the Council on Environmental Quality directing agencies to limit carbon dioxide emissions. The plan would release emissions that are 175 times higher than the CEQ guidelines, according to the report.

Geos used the report to push for a conservation alternative to the draft plan that would accelerate the transition to young-growth logging.

“The Obama Administration is using a double standard of paying other countries not to destroy tropical rainforests, while logging the Tongass rainforest,” DellaSala said in a statement. “We need bold action to save the Tongass and its climate now, not baby steps that drag transition through years of controversial old-growth logging in one of the world’s most important temperate rainforests.”

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