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Jane Fonda: Save Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from loggers in climate change fight

The Trump administration has proposed removing logging protections from the Alaskan rainforest. But now is the time to plant trees, not cut them down.

By Jane FondaOpinion contributor, USA Today, published December 31, 2019

I’ve been in Washington, D.C., for the last three months doing weekly actions called Fire Drill Fridays — because what 97% of active climate scientists are saying scares me, and I feel the need to do more.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report issued in October 2018, if we don’t make great strides toward lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years, the magnitude of the changes we’re already seeing will accelerate and may become irreversible.

We have the technology to transition away from fossil fuels, and this can’t happen soon enough. At the same time, we need to take proactive measures to reduce the concentration of carbon emissions already in the atmosphere.

That doesn’t necessarily require expensive technology. Trees are carbon sponges, and some scientists estimate that planting billions of new trees across the globe would be the cheapest and most effective way to absorb and store the emissions contributing to climate change. Planting new trees is important — and so is protecting existing forestland.

Our natural carbon-eating resource

The Tongass National Forest in Southeastern Alaska is one of the world’s last intact temperate rainforests and the largest national forest in the United States. It is also a vital resource in the battle against climate change. In addition to being crucial for Alaska’s outdoor recreation industry and a diverse haven of wildlife and wilderness, the Tongass is also a mammoth carbon sink.

By itself, this one national forest traps an estimated 8% of the total carbon stored across all national forests in the contiguous U.S. Yet the Trump administration is proposing to exempt the Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Rule, an important protection that keeps roads out of the forest’s wildest places and protects trees from industrial clear-cutting.

Rolling back this safeguard could potentially open up for new logging large swaths of the 9.5 million acres currently protected by the rule. It could lead to miles of new road construction that would irreversibly alter this old-growth temperate rainforest. Instead of giving us more time to transition to clean energy, allowing new logging in the Tongass would create a new source of additional carbon emissions.

In the face of a climate crisis, this proposal is astoundingly irresponsible and reckless. It’s also an attack on indigenous peoples of southeast Alaska.

Native Alaskans need allies

The Tongass exists within the traditional territories of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples. Many in the Alaska Native community continue to depend upon the healthy watersheds and abundant fish and wildlife habitats in this magnificent forest for their food and livelihoods. All of that would be threatened by road development and logging.

Beginning in the 1950s, industrial-scale logging wiped out vast stands of trees across the Tongass. In addition to presenting concerns about food security, new logging has the potential to destroy sacred sites and areas of traditional and customary use that are integral to Alaska Native culture and heritage.

Earlier this year, a delegation of indigenous women from Southeast Alaska traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the Tongass and against any exemption from the Roadless Rule. They met with members of Congress and explained how important the Tongass is to their way of life, their culture and their history. And their urgent message is included in my Fire Drill Friday climate action. It’s important for allies to stand with them in opposing dangerous new logging in the Tongass.

Everyone who cares about those forests, and about the future of our civilization as we know it, should contact their members of Congress and Sonny Perdue, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that introduced the proposal, to call for the Roadless Rule to remain intact.

Jane Fonda is an actor, activist and author. Follow her on Twitter: @Janefonda

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