Emily Kwong, Madeline K. Sofia, and Rebecca Ramirez • November 17, 2020, 4:00 AM ET
The Trump administration has eliminated federal protections for the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska.
In late October, the U.S. Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, cleared the way for the Tongass to be fully exempted from the Roadless Rule, a 2001 policy passed in the waning days of the Clinton administration.
With the rollback of the Roadless Rule, nine million previously-protected acres are now open further to potential development.
Alaskan political leadership has long sought this change for the 32 islanded communities in the Tongass, saying the Roadless Rule is a hinderance to development, infrastructure, and economic opportunity.
But environmental groups have long opposed this proposal. The trees of the Tongass have been storing carbon for centuries and provide critical habitat for wildlife. The region is also significant for Alaskan Native tribes and subsistence users, who rely on the Tongass for food and medicine. An internal Forest Service report said that 96% of public comments voiced support for keeping the Roadless Rule in place.
In this update to our story from last year, NPR Short Wave reporter Emily Kwong talks with host Maddie Sofia about why the Roadless Rule is being axed and what could change under President-elect Joe Biden.