Environmentalists say allowing road construction – a first step toward logging – could destroy the vast wilderness of snow-capped, stormy rivers and virgin forest, widely regarded as one of America’s treasures.
Climate scientists also point out that the Tongass provides an important service to the billions of people across the planet who will probably never sit there: it is one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, which is the equivalent of about 8 percent of the carbon stored together in all the forests of the lower 48 states.
It is not clear whether the government of Biden will return protection to the entire 9 million hectares of forest or only part of it. The White House agenda says the federal government will formally issue a notice of proposed rule-making by August, with environmental analyzes and a final decision to follow in the coming year.
In a 2019 draft environmental study on possible changes to the protection of the Tongass, the U.S. Forest Service said it would consider six possible changes to the rule. One option would have maintained restrictions in 80 percent of the area currently protected by the rule; another would have opened up about 2.3 million acres for logging and construction.