A Trump administration proposal released Friday would let the government deny habitat protections for endangered animals and plants in certain areas — including in thousands of acres in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska that would become open to logging.
The Forest Service proposed letting the timber industry chop down trees across up to more than 6,000 acres of forest.
Critics said the move will exacerbate climate change and harm wildlife habitats, though Fish and Wildlife Service officials described the overall plan as giving more deference to local governments when they want to build schools and hospitals.
The Tongass National Forest is a major carbon sink, meaning its trees soak up carbon from the atmosphere, mitigating the impacts of climate change, The Hill reported.
In a letter attached to the draft of the environmental impact statement outlining the proposal, Tongass Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart wrote giveaway intends to “contribute jobs and labor income in local and regional communities in the timber and tourism sectors, contribute to improved terrestrial and aquatic conditions, support access to subsistence resources, and provide safe access to Forest users,” The Hill reported.
Critics see it differently.
“The older and bigger the tree is means the more carbon it is holding in the tree trunks, the roots, the branches …the bigger, the better. And what you have in the Tongass are some of the carbon-storing champions,” Randi Spivak, the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands director, told The Hill.
She also expressed concern that allowing the trees to be cut down could harm animal species that use it for cover, and native people who eat animals like deer.
“Deer need these old-growth forests for thermal cover in winter and food sources, and when you log these forests, you lose that thermal cover from these forests. Likewise, the archipelago wolf, whose populations have really been devastated, they prey on deer and they also utilize these forests,” she said.
The logging would take place on Revillagigedo Island, which is part of the national forest.
The plan is the latest move by the Trump administration in a years-long effort to repeal regulations across government that has broadly changed how the Endangered Species Act gets used.
Other steps under Trump to scale back species rules included lifting blanket protections for animals newly listed as threatened, setting cost estimates for saving species and a pending proposal to restrict what areas fit under the definition of "habitat".
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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