As the world grapples with a downward spiraling economy, gasping industries, and a populace reeling from layoffs and investment losses, the protection of a forest may not be at the top of our concerns.
However, there are reasons why it should.
Protections for some of the last pristine roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, put in place almost two decades ago and now under threat of being removed, could become a saving grace in America’s current time of uncertainty.
The Roadless Rule safeguards important old growth forests, a broad diversity of wildlife, and important recreation areas in national forests across the country including in the Tongass, America’s largest national forest.
If these protections are maintained, the Tongass will continue to serve millions as it has for generations — as a natural haven to replenish our weary souls, no matter what trials we are dealt and as public land we all have access to.
However, a recent proposal by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the state of Alaska seeks to remove these protections to benefit the logging industry.
Such a proposal not only threatens thriving wildlife habitat and the natural environment, but also poses a threat to vital tourism and outdoor recreation industries that are cornerstones of Southeast Alaska’s economy.
Tourists flock to the Tongass each year to experience its natural wonders.
Revenues generated by these industries account for 26% of the local income for the economy of Southeast Alaska. This significantly outpaces the timber industry, which generates only 1 percent of the revenue for the local economy.
The Tongass also supports critical habitat for the wild Alaskan salmon millions of Americans buy each year. The salmon are harvested from the waters connected to the forest and they are as profitable as they are delicious, but only as long as the forest remains healthy. The Tongass salmon industry provides for 28% of the commercial salmon harvest throughout Alaska, with annual statewide yields of $986 million.
In the wake of the passage of the $2.2 trillion and $484 billion stimulus packages, it seems Americans will need every penny moving forward to regain our economic stability.
Yet, lifting the protections of the Roadless Rule will only deepen economic loss.
Recent reports highlight how the USFS reported an annual net loss of $21.75 million from subsidization of the Tongass logging industry. Such losses are further highlighted by the 2019 report from Taxpayers for Common Sense that found the USFS lost over $600 million in the previous two decades from logging and roadbuilding, amounting to approximately $30 million per year.
In its report, Taxpayers for Common Sense includes its projections for future economic loss and found that in the next four years, the USFS could lose more than $180 million from the current timber operations.
However, this four-year estimation assumes the maintenance of the Roadless Rule protections, which begs the question — how much more will be lost if a staggering 9 million acres are opened for subsidized logging?
Is now the time for America to be gambling or taking risks that history shows us are money losers for the taxpaying public?
More than 11 million Americans filed for unemployment in March due to COVID-19 shutdowns. Americans simply cannot afford further job loss or wasted government dollars.
The 10,000 jobs the Tongass provides for Alaskans working in the fishing, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries would be at risk by eliminating the Roadless Rule and opening pristine areas in the forest up to industrial development.
The Trump administration has the opportunity to make the right choice by upholding the Roadless Rule, following in the footsteps of past Republican administrations that prioritized conservation of our country, ideals dating back more than 100 years ago with the inception of the U.S. Forest Service in 1901 and the 1906 Antiquities Act, both under President Theodore Roosevelt.
As we look to return to normal life after the coronavirus crisis, we are reminded of the following quote from Ronald Reagan on conservation: "Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources."
Frank Donatelli served as an assistant for political affairs to President Reagan and as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain, and as the executive vice president and director at McGuire Woods Consulting.
Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer and presidential historian. His books include, “Reagan’s Revolution, The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started it All,” “Rendezvous with Destiny, Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America,” "Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years," and “ Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan." He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, “December, 1941” and his new 2019 book, “Mary Ball Washington,” a definitive biography of George Washington’s mother. Shirley lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and the Reagan Ranch. He has been named the First Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater and will teach a class this fall at the University of Virginia on Reagan. He appears regularly on Newsmax TV, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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