By Jake Johnson
President Donald Trump has reportedly ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture to open Alaska's 16.7 million-acre Tongass National Forest — the planet's largest intact temperate rainforest — to logging and other corporate development projects, a move that comes as thousands of fires are ripping through the Amazon rainforest and putting the "lungs of the world" in grave danger.
The Washington Post, citing anonymous officials briefed on the president's instructions, reported late Tuesday that Trump's policy change would lift 20-year-old logging restrictions that "barred the construction of roads in 58.5 million acres of undeveloped national forest across the country."
The move, according to the Post, would affect more than half of the Tongass National Forest, "opening it up to potential logging, energy, and mining projects."
The logging restrictions have been under near-constant assault by Republicans since they were implemented, but federal courts have allowed them to stand. As the Post reported:
Trump's decision to weigh in, at a time when Forest Service officials had planned much more modest changes to managing the agency's single largest holding, revives a battle that the previous administration had aimed to settle.
In 2016, the agency finalized a plan to phase out old-growth logging in the Tongass within a decade. Congress has designated more than 5.7 million acres of the forest as wilderness, which must remain undeveloped under any circumstances. If Trump's plan succeeds, it could affect 9.5 million acres ...
John Schoen, a retired wildlife ecologist who worked in the Tongass for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, co-authored a 2013 research paper finding that roughly half of the forest's large old-growth trees had been logged last century. The remaining big trees provide critical habitat for black bear, Sitka black-tailed deer, a bird of prey called the Northern Goshawk and other species, he added.
Environmentalists were quick to voice outrage at the U.S. president's reported move and draw comparisons between Trump and his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro, who has rapidly accelerated deforestation in the Amazon.
Gotta keep up with the Bolsonaros I guess— Brian Kahn (@Brian Kahn)1566948143.0
"If the planet could talk," wrote volcanologist Jess Phoenix, "it would be screaming in agony or weeping in despair. Maybe both."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
- Farmers Learn How to Preserve Rainforests in Honduras and Costa Rica - EcoWatch ›
- Farmers Learn How to Preserve Rainforests in Honduras and Costa Rica - EcoWatch ›
- These Scientists Are Listening to the Borneo Rainforest ›
- Trump Administration to Allow Logging in Pristine National Forest - EcoWatch ›
- Trump to Remove Protections for Tongass National Forest, the 'Lungs of North America' - EcoWatch ›
By Faith Rudebusch
For 12,000 years, wolves have roamed Southeast Alaska's rugged Alexander Archipelago—a 300-mile stretch of more than 1,000 islands mostly within the Tongass National Forest. Now, their old-growth forest habitat is rapidly disappearing, putting the wolves at risk. As the region's logging policies garner controversy, a new study examines what the wolves need in order to survive.
Largely isolated from mainland wolves by water barriers and the Coast Mountains, the Alexander Archipelago wolf (Canis lupus ligoni) is widely considered to be a subspecies of gray wolf genetically distinct from other North American populations. In the 1990s and again in 2011, conservationists sought to protect the island wolves under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied these petitions—most recently, in January 2016.
Despite their decision not to list the subspecies, in their analysis, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service highlighted Prince of Wales Island as the area of greatest concern for the archipelago wolves, due primarily to impacts of logging and trapping. Bigger than the state of Delaware, Prince of Wales is the largest island in Southeast Alaska and the fourth-largest island in the U.S., after Hawaii, Kodiak Island and Puerto Rico. The island's lowland hills are blanketed with temperate rainforests of spruce and hemlock and strewn with winding rivers and fjords.
Much of Prince of Wales' scant human population of fewer than 5,500 residents makes its living from the island's natural resources—uranium mining, commercial fishing, hunting and harvesting timber. The Tongass, which covers most of the island, is the last national forest where the logging industry can legally clear-cut old-growth timber. "The trees are huge ... it's been the epicenter for the logging industry in Alaska," said Gretchen Roffler, a wildlife research biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).
When commercial logging reached Prince of Wales in the 1950s, it hit full force. Between 1954 and 2004, 94 percent of the "contiguous, high-volume old-growth—the big trees, the really high-quality timber—was harvested," according to John Schoen, retired senior conservation biologist with ADF&G. "That's a huge impact."
"Prince of Wales Island is basically a patchwork of the remaining old-growth and then second-growth in various stages of reforestation," Roffler said. "Everything from clear-cuts to older second-growth."
Today, logging roads etch elaborate curlicues into the island's topography. The extensive road system provides hunters and trappers with easy access to the wolves, which are simultaneously prized for their pelts and regarded as competitors that steal hunters' deer. According to Roffler, 60 wolves were hunted or trapped last year, 2 illegally. The total number of wolves killed without permits is, of course, impossible to obtain. Roffler said that ADF&G estimated that 231 wolves inhabited Prince of Wales and surrounding smaller islands in the fall of 2017.
Although hunting and trapping have the potential to eradicate wolves in the short-term, habitat loss from logging poses an even greater long-term challenge for wolf survival, said Roffler, whose study of wolves on Prince of Wales was recently published in Forest Ecology and Management. Logging primarily affects wolves by reducing habitat for deer, their primary source of prey. To learn more about which pieces of the fragmented landscape the wolves tend to frequent, Roffler and her team distributed radio collars among 13 wolves in 7 packs. The radio collars transmitted wolf locations for up to two years per animal, allowing unprecedented insight into their movements.
Roffler and her colleagues found that the island wolves used a variety of habitats: open meadows, marshy muskegs, salmon streams and even recent clear-cuts seasonally accommodated these adaptable animals. Wolves avoided areas with high road densities during the spring denning season and summer, but strongly selected these areas during the winter. They spent much of the fall and winter hunting Sitka black-tailed deer in low-volume, old-growth forest. There, the tree canopies act as umbrellas, catching much of the snow. According to Schoen, deer need old-growth forests to access food during the winter.
Roffler's research showed that wolves, like deer in previous studies, consistently avoided younger forests. Logged 25 to 30-plus years ago, young-growth conifer forests replace clear-cuts in accordance with the ecological principle of succession. The trees' interlocking branches keep light from reaching the forest floor, where few plants are able to grow. Deer, along with most other wildlife, can find almost nothing to eat in such forests. Coined "succession debt" by scientists, this legacy from prior logging operations will impact wildlife for more than a century.
Wolves are considered habitat generalists, existing in a broad range of habitats and ecological conditions worldwide. "They live in deserts and outside of urban areas; they live in forests and out in the mountains and in the grasslands," said Roffler. "But they are really strongly avoiding the older clear-cuts on Prince of Wales Island. And that's significant because there's a lot of land area moving into that kind of forest."
In an attempt to salvage this new kind of habitat for wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service recently began pre-commercially thinning the trees. But the wolves in Roffler's study didn't show any preference for the thinned forests. "The thinning treatments… haven't been very effective at creating better habitat for wolves," Roffler said. "And when we say better habitat for wolves, we probably really mean better habitat for deer, because that's why wolves would most likely be going into these forests."
Roffler says that deer are wolves' primary food source. As deer populations decline, she predicts that wolves will switch to other forms of prey. She found that beavers, seasonally available salmon, bear cubs and adult bear carcasses (abandoned by hunters) all contribute to the island wolves' diets. But Schoen is less optimistic, stating that Prince of Wales residents depend on successful deer hunts to feed their families. He believes that as succession debt reduces deer populations, hunters will increasingly target wolves, legally or illegally, as they are perceived as depleting deer populations.
For decades, the Forest Service has struggled to reconcile the ecological value of 200- to 500-year-old trees with their economic value as timber. In December 2016, the agency, in consultation with scientists and members of the public, approved a 16-year plan to transition away from old-growth logging to the exclusive harvest of previously logged lands.
Alaska's Senator Lisa Murkowski and the logging industry don't like this plan. During a February roundtable discussion with Senator Murkowski, panelists lobbied to keep their access to the forest, according to Alaska Public Media. Timber company representatives pointed out that their lumber mills can't process smaller trees. Senator Murkowski pushed for riders to the 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill that would have voided the expiration date on old-growth logging and allowed new road construction in the Tongass (new roads are normally banned in National Forests); the bill passed without the riders.
"The timber industry wants to log the high-volume, big-tree stands," said Schoen. "It's like picking the M&Ms out of a bag of GORP." Since 2014, Schoen has collaborated with other preeminent scientists working to end clear-cutting in the old-growth forest. "I think, if the timber industry had the opportunity, they would continue clear-cutting the rare, big tree, old-growth forest in the Tongass for probably the next 10 to 15 years, until those valuable trees were gone. After that, they would pull out." Disheartened by how long the Forest Service has taken to protect these trees, he adds, "That kind of forestry is unsustainable and would do great damage to the fish and wildlife resources of the Tongass, the only national forest where old-growth is still allowed to be clear-cut."
Former chief of the Forest Service Mike Dombeck recently argued for protecting Tongass old-growth in the New York Times. Dombeck concluded, "To restart road building in Alaska's most pristine national forests will only repeat history, leading to more lawsuits and uncertainty while undercutting the region's economic bases of fishing and tourism."
"I think there's a serious conservation concern," said Schoen. "The science community recognizes that old-growth forests are rare. They're highly valuable, not just for deer or wolves or marbled murrelets or goshawks. They're valuable really as an endangered ecosystem."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Earth Island Journal.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.