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The Case for Protecting the Tongass National Forest, America’s ‘Last Climate Sanctuary’

From Observatory

The Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States and the world's largest temperate rainforest, is a remarkable and ecologically vital region. Despite its vast expanse, it’s sparsely populated, with approximately 70,000 residents scattered across 32 communities within an area comparable in size to West Virginia.

This pristine wilderness, with its ancient trees, abundant waterways, and unique biodiversity, shelters around 400 species, including bears, wolves, bald eagles, deer, trout, and five types of Pacific salmon. Its breathtaking landscapes encompass old-growth forests, towering mountains, granite cliffs, deep fjords, and over 1,000 islands facing the Pacific Ocean.

Recognized as “America’s crown jewel of natural forests,” the Tongass has served as a critical carbon sink, absorbing more carbon dioxide than it emits and helping mitigate climate change. In fact, it holds approximately 44 percent of all the carbon stored by U.S. national forests. The massive trees in these old-growth forests, which can live for centuries, are especially effective at storing carbon.

The forest supports some of the world’s largest wild salmon populations, vital for the local Indigenous communities’ traditional way of life, food security, and cultural identity. Moreover, the Tongass is a popular tourist destination, drawing over 2.8 million visitors annually and generating significant economic activity.

Despite its ecological importance and cultural significance, the Tongass has faced threats from the logging industry and political interests seeking to exploit its resources. Large-scale development could lead to irreversible damage, habitat fragmentation, and biodiversity loss.

The Biden administration has taken steps to protect the Tongass, reinstating the Roadless Rule in 2023. This decision is crucial for preserving the forest’s ecological and cultural value and supporting a sustainable Alaskan economy, especially in the fishing, tourism, and recreation sectors.

Ultimately, the Tongass National Forest is a treasure with global significance, playing a pivotal role in combating climate change, protecting biodiversity, and respecting the cultural heritage of Indigenous communities. All Americans are responsible for acting as stewards of this natural wonder, ensuring that future generations can continue to benefit from its immense ecological and cultural value.

🔭   This summary was human-edited with AI-assist.

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