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The Great Outdoors

The Biggest National Forest In The Country Is Now On The Chopping Block

A coastal section of the Tongass National Forest
Screenshot: YouTube

The week before Election Day, before a possible loss, Donald Trump’s Department of the Interior is throwing several Hail Marys in an attempt to push as much of their pro-privatization and extraction agenda as they can. The Fish and Wildlife Service ended protections on gray wolves on Thursday in a last-ditch effort to gin up votes in critical upper Midwest battleground states; an executive order from the White House one month ago fast tracked mining permits in northern Minnesota; and, most concerningly, the Department of Agriculture just yesterday approved plans to open up over 9 million acres of the nation’s largest national forest for logging.

Alaska’s Tongass National Forest spans over 17 million acres of old growth forest, and together with British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, it forms the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. It is replete with glaciers, and it forms a critical habitat for wildlife. Since 2001, 9.3 million acres have been protected by a “roadless rule” prohibiting development or timber harvesting, which keeps intact the largest carbon sink in the country. “While tropical rainforests are the lungs of the planet, the Tongass is the lungs of North America,” climate scientist Dominick DellaSala told the Washington Post. “It’s America’s last climate sanctuary.”

The ruling immediately designates 188,000 acres of pristine old growth forest for logging while also priming the rest for the possibility of future extraction. A staggering 96 percent of public comments regarding the project opposed it. It is one of the most significant rollbacks of public lands under the oversight of the Trump administration. Ironically it comes just weeks after the president signed the One Trillion Trees Initiative. This fall, the administration also announced plans to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, although the courts have blocked several other expansionary policies, such as a plan to sell 1.8 million acres of Prince of Wales Island for logging.

One of the hatchet men in charge of the aggressive sale of public lands has been our old friend William Perry Pendley, the then-acting director of the Bureau of Land Management who was ordered by a federal judge a month ago to vacate his position, as he had been appointed illegally and never confirmed by the Senate. Rather than actually leave the office as ordered, Pendley and DOI chief David Bernhardt have instead pivoted to operating under the fiction that Pendley was never acting director of the BLM at all, therefore skirting the court order. “I’m still here, I’m still running the bureau,” Pendley said in a bizarre interview with the Powell Tribune. “I have always been from day one … deputy director of policy and programs.”

Pendley has not been, as Bernhardt avoided legally mandated congressional oversight by continuing to appoint him to the BLM directorship on an interim basis. The fake cowboy who resembles a muskrat has been singularly devoted to privatizing public lands, and has overseen expanded drilling projects as well as the relocation of the BLM offices into the same building as a Chevron corporate office. Montana Senator Jon Tester has introduced a bill seeking to ban for Department of Justice from appealing Pendley’s ouster. If he formally gets the boot, courts could roll back several disastrous extraction projects approved under his tenure. While Pendley’s fate might be sealed, the fight over continued extraction on public lands is still ongoing.