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

Recent Posts

National Democrats find they have a lot they can learn from Marie Gluesenkamp Perez

She has held office fewer than three months, but the 3rd Congressional District's Representative Marie…

9 hours ago

Last Week In Congress: How Cascadia’s U.S. lawmakers voted (March 20th-24th)

The week's major votes included House passage of the Providing Appropriate Recognition and Treatment Needed…

15 hours ago

“Pro-life” Idaho Republican Governor Brad Little just signed a firing squad execution bill

Idaho Republicans are most definitely not trying to change their state's laws to abolish executions.…

1 day ago

A roundup of reaction to the Supreme Court’s Quinn ruling upholding WA’s capital gains tax

Read what elected officials, advocacy organizations, and other think tanks are saying about the Washington…

2 days ago

VICTORY! Washington State Supreme Court upholds new capital gains tax on the wealthy

The Court voted 7-2 in favor of finding that Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5096 (the…

2 days ago

Seattle voters love ST3’s Ballard and West Seattle light rail extensions, but will they love the alignment Sound Transit’s board picks?

81% of likely February 2023 special election voters in Seattle support light rail to Ballard…

3 days ago