Policy Topics

U.S., Canadian officials act to rescue rainforests in Alaska and British Columbia

The world’s remain­ing and endan­gered tem­per­ate rain­forests, found most­ly in Alas­ka, British Colum­bia and the Pacif­ic North­west, received major pro­tec­tion this week thanks to actions by the Biden admin­is­tra­tion and the provin­cial gov­ern­ment of British Colum­bia, Canada’s third largest province.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture offi­cial­ly rein­stat­ed the Clin­ton-era Nation­al Road­less Rule in South­east Alaska’s vast sev­en­teen mil­lion-acre Ton­gass Nation­al For­est. The rule pre­cludes addi­tion­al build­ing of log­ging roads to access the tallest, old­est and most sought-after trees includ­ing cedars up to 1,000 years old.

On the oth­er side of the bor­der, British Columbia’s Pre­mier David Eby announced pro­tec­tion of 75,000 hectares of the Incomap­pleux Val­ley, locat­ed near Rev­el­stoke in the Selkirk Range and site of an inte­ri­or rain for­est inhab­it­ed by griz­zly bears, rare wood­land cari­bou and known for its bull trout. A hectare equals 2.471 acres.

The val­ley is one of B.C.’s “great­est trea­sures,” said Eby, adding: “It’s home to old growth cedars and hem­lock trees that are four meters in diam­e­ter. Over two hun­dred and fifty species of lichen can be found in these forests, includ­ing sev­er­al that are com­plete­ly new to science.”

Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, cap­tained resis­tance to the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion when it removed the Ton­gass from Road­less Rule pro­tec­tion and began to iden­ti­fy val­ley-bot­tom forests for clearcutting.

Cantwell, a con­ser­va­tion cham­pi­on, not­ed that the free flow­ing streams of America’s largest nation­al for­est are respon­si­ble for sev­en­ty-five per­cent of South­east Alaska’s com­mer­cial salmon catch, or forty mil­lion fish in 2020.

“This is phe­nom­e­nal news for one of the world’s last great remain­ing tem­per­ate forests,” said Cantwell. “The Ton­gass’ pris­tine for­est lands are an endur­ing gift to the Pacif­ic North­west that sup­ports thou­sands of region­al tourism and fish­ing jobs. The salmon runs, recre­ation­al appeal and irre­place­able car­bon stor­age the Ton­gass cur­rent­ly pro­vides will always be more valu­able to our com­mu­ni­ties than any sub­si­dized log­ging projects.”

The term “rain­for­est” is often asso­ci­at­ed with the threat­ened Ama­zon Basin in South Amer­i­ca, often called the “lungs of the plan­et” for its car­bon storage.

Our part of the world, how­ev­er, fea­tures tem­per­ate rain­forests locat­ed along the West Coast and in inte­ri­or ranges where mois­ture meets moun­tain ranges.

Log­ging has cut into these forests. Parts of the Ton­gass, notably Prince of Wales and Chichagof Islands, were once heav­i­ly cut to sup­ply huge pulp mills at Ketchikan and Sit­ka. The 1980 Alas­ka Lands Act pro­tect­ed six mil­lion acres of the Ton­gass as wilder­ness, but much of the pro­tect­ed land con­sist­ed of glac­i­ers, rocky peaks and coast­lines, and muskeg bogs.

Rein­state­ment of the Road­less Rule is “key to con­serv­ing bio­di­ver­si­ty and address­ing the cli­mate cri­sis,” said U.S. Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Tom Vil­sack. It cov­ers 9.4 mil­lion acres, more than half of the Ton­gass. All told, the Road­less Rule applies to 58.5 mil­lion acres of the country’s 161 mil­lion acre nation­al for­est sys­tem. In this state, it has fore­stalled log­ging of such places as Quin­ault Ridge on the Olympic Penin­su­la and the Ket­tle Range in north­east Washington.

Glo­ria Burns, vice pres­i­dent of the Ketchikan Indi­an Com­mu­ni­ty, wel­comes restored pro­tec­tion in the Ton­gass. “I come from a fam­i­ly of weavers and we rely cul­tur­al­ly, spir­i­tu­al­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly on a thriv­ing, and healthy old growth for­est,” said she. “We will be in this place until the end of time and our cul­tures depend on and revolve around our nat­ur­al world.”

Nugget Falls, locat­ed in the Ton­gass Nation­al For­est, emp­ties into Lake Menden­hall (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

But Sen­a­tor Lisa Murkows­ki, R‑Alaska, described rein­state­ment of the Road­less Rule as “fed­er­al pater­nal­ism at its worst”, with land use turn­ing into a “polit­i­cal foot­ball” chang­ing hands with what­ev­er polit­i­cal par­ty occu­pies the White House.

“It is a beau­ti­ful place and we don’t want it becom­ing paved nec­es­sar­i­ly but I also think that it’s impor­tant for Alaskans to have access to the resources that they need,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mary Pel­to­la, D‑Alaska.

The tim­ber indus­try has sharply declined in South­east Alas­ka. Both of the big pulp mills shut down years ago. Tourism and recre­ation, from cruise ship vis­its to fish­ing lodges, have, how­ev­er, boomed.

In British Colum­bia, the great forests of the Incomap­pleux Val­ley are hun­dreds of miles from the Pacif­ic Coast. They are a prod­uct of cli­mate. The jet stream sends storms east to where they run into peas of the Selkirks, Pur­cells, Cari­bou and Rocky Moun­tains. The head­wa­ters of the U‑shaped, glac­i­er-sculpt­ed riv­er val­ley are in Canada’s Glac­i­er Nation­al Park and 11,000-foot sum­mits and icefields.

“I hiked up the Incomap­pleux this sum­mer to go fly fish­ing for bull trout,” said Keenan Simp­son, a cham­pi­on Cana­di­an kayak­er who once went to Garfield High School. “Some call it Bull Riv­er but I didn’t get a bite. It’s beau­ti­ful and green in there. Very glad it’s pro­tect­ed. I will return in the spring when it floods to attempt a kayak descent.”

Remain­ing rain­for­est old growth in the inte­ri­or is “incred­i­bly rare,” said B.C. Envi­ron­ment Min­is­ter George Heyman.

The province has turned much of its old growth into tree farm licens­es, giv­ing log­ging com­pa­nies carte blanche to cut. “We thought we could go in and har­vest with­out pay­ing atten­tion to the impacts: We all now know, includ­ing cor­po­ra­tions, that we can’t do that,” Hey­man told a news con­fer­ence in Victoria.

Inter­for, one of the world’s largest tim­ber com­pa­nies, “released” the Incomap­pleux from its tree farm license so the province could pro­tect it.

There was a ran­som involved. The Nature Con­ser­van­cy mid­wifed col­lec­tion of $4 mil­lion (Cana­di­an) to com­pen­sate Interfor.

The Seat­tle-based Wilber­force Foun­da­tion was a contributor.

The province is cre­at­ing a 58,000 hectares con­ser­van­cy, cov­er­ing about three-quar­ters of the val­ley, in which log­ging, min­ing and large-scale hydro devel­op­ment will be for­bid­den. Anoth­er 17,000 hectares in the low­er val­ley will see no log­ging but min­er­al explo­ration will be allowed.

Pre­mier Eby reflect­ed on how opin­ion in his province has changed.

Six­ty years ago, a col­or­ful British Colum­bia cab­i­net min­is­ter and preach­er named Phil Gaglar­di pro­claimed, “God didn’t put those trees there for man to wor­ship. He put them there to be cut down.” One vast clearcut, in the Bowron Riv­er, showed up in pic­tures from space.

“They believed we had to choose between grow­ing the econ­o­my and pro­tect­ing unique wild spaces lie this for gen­er­a­tions to come,” said Eby. “That’s a false choice. British Columbians now we can do both.”

The premier’s words will be test­ed. Local and provin­cial con­ser­va­tion­ists are fight­ing to keep log­gers out of Arg­onaut Creek, north of Rev­el­stoke, and the Rausch Riv­er to the north in the Cari­bou Riv­er. Both are sites of cathe­dral forests below tow­er­ing peaks of inte­ri­or British Columbia.

Speak­ing in Vic­to­ria, cel­e­brat­ing pro­tec­tion of the Incomap­pleux, was Chief James Tom­ma of the Skw’laxte Secwepe­ma Lecu (or Lit­tle Shuswap) native band.

“Old growth are just seen as a dol­lar val­ue,” he said.

“Now peo­ple will be able to go look and see the grandeur that the cre­ator put before us… Hope­ful­ly, in the future, we can go up and take a look at it and see exact­ly what our ances­tors and first con­tact walked through and looked at.”

Joel Connelly

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Recent Posts

Read the list of candidates endorsed by the Washington State Labor Council for the 2024 cycle

Here are the results from the voting at the annual Committee on Political Education (COPE)…

2 days ago

Janelle Bynum, Jamie McLeod-Skinner vie to take on Lori Chavez-DeRemer in May 21st primary

Democratic voters in Oregon's 5th Congressional District will soon decide who the party's nominee will…

2 days ago

Bob Ferguson widens lead over Dave Reichert in 2024 Washington gubernatorial race, NPI poll finds

The Democratic frontrunner, who currently serves as the Evergreen State's Attorney General, has slightly widened…

3 days ago

Defend Washington publicly releases recent polling showing Brian Heywood and Jim Walsh’s slate of initiatives on track to fail

The coalition working to protect Washington from three measures that seek to repeal or sabotage…

5 days ago

One-on-one with Emily Randall: Why the Deputy State Senate Majority Leader wants to succeed Derek Kilmer in Congress

Randall said that she would prioritize affordability of housing, childcare, and education if elected, along…

6 days ago

Election integrity prevails as Glen Morgan’s Robert Fergusons withdraw their phony gubernatorial candidacies

A Republican operative's illegal plan to mess with Democratic frontrunner Bob Ferguson's gubernatorial campaign has…

7 days ago