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Geos Institute helps communities build resilience in the face of climate change

Tongass Logging Plan At Odds With Paris Climate Change Agreements

For Immediate Release on January 11, 2016

tongass flyover

Contacts: Dominick A. DellaSala: 541-621-7223 (cell); Jim Furnish: 240-271-1650

Ashland, OR – a logging plan on the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska conflicts with President Obama’s commitments to the Paris climate change agreements reached in December. 

In November, the U.S. Forest Service issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to transition the Tongass out of old-growth logging but the agency plans to continue logging carbon-rich, old-growth rainforests as it slowly transitions logging to younger trees.

When rainforests are logged, most of the carbon stored in dense foliage, old trees, and soils is emitted as carbon dioxide pollution, the main culprit in heating the planet. A new report by the Ashland-based Geos Institute, a climate change organization, shows proposed would release global warming pollution equivalent to the emissions from 4 million vehicles annually at a time when the nation is striving to cut emissions.

Report author, Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist of Geos Institute, stated, “Cutting down Tongass old-growth rainforest is like smoking cigarettes, it harms the ability of rainforests to filter greenhouse gases contributing to the melting of Alaska’s magnificent glaciers.”

DellaSala used published estimates of carbon stored in Tongass rainforest and carbon dioxide emissions known to occur when rainforests are cut down from decomposition of logging slash and use of fossil fuels in transport and manufacture of wood products. Logging emissions were expressed as equivalent vehicle emissions using an EPA equivalence calculator and compared to an emissions standard proposed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to keep federal actions in check.

Key Findings of the Report:

  • The Forest Services’ preferred alternative for the Tongass would generate emissions equivalent to over 4 million vehicles annually on Alaska roads for the next 100 years. Emissions estimates account for carbon stored in wood products and capture of carbon by forest regrowth.
  • Logging emissions are over 175 times higher than the CEQ emissions guideline, thus the Forest Service chose an alternative that is out of compliance with White House efforts to reduce emissions of federal actions.
  • Logging emissions contribute to estimated costs anticipated from global warming damages of over $100 million annually by the end of the century. Losses are 10 times greater than logging revenues and would eventually contribute to damages to Alaska’s economy by worsening sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion, and other economic impacts anticipated over the century.

Last September, President Obama toured Alaska to view the State’s melting glaciers and showcase his climate change initiatives prior to the Paris conference in December. The President described Alaska as a “signpost” for the nation’s climate change impacts.

Regarding the President’s Alaska interests, Former Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Jim Furnish, who oversaw a similar transition on the Siuslaw National Forest in Oregon during the Clinton Administration, noted “the Forest Service needs to do a better job of speeding up the transition by getting out of controversial old-growth timber sales and supporting the timber industry through young growth sales that save jobs and Alaska’s climate.”

At nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska is the crown jewel of the national forest system. It stores more carbon than any national forest, contains world-class salmon runs and wildlife populations, and is one of the world’s last relatively intact temperate rainforests. Scientists have recognized the Tongass as a climate refuge for rainforest species.

Citing the United Nation’s programme to reduce emissions from forest losses, DellaSala added, “The Obama Administration’s is using a double standard of paying other countries not to destroy tropical rainforests, while logging the Tongass rainforest. 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.”

Geos Institute was one of six conservation groups that requested the Forest Service develop a “conservation alternative” to speed up its transition. The agency prematurely rejected the alternative in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement before studies were completed on young forest inventories designed to aid the transition.

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