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Trump Administration to Allow Logging in Pristine National Forest

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Trump Administration to Allow Logging in Pristine National Forest
A black bear cub climbs a tree at Tongass National Forest in Alaska. sarkophoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus

America's largest national forest, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, will be opened up to logging and road construction after the Trump administration finalizes its plans to open up the forest on Friday, according to The New York Times.


The plans to open up the forest to logging have been in the works for years. In March, the Trump administration faced a setback when a federal judge halted plans to open 1.8 million acres to logging and road building because the administration had failed to evaluate the environmental impact fully, as EcoWatch reported at the time.

The roughly 9 million acres that the administration wants to open up now have been protected since the 2001 by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, or Roadless Rule, which prohibits construction in nationally protected wild areas, according to The Guardian. The U.S Forest Service is expected to release a full environmental impact statement later on Friday, saying that lifting the rule will not damage the 16.7 million-acre temperate rainforest in southeast Alaska. The administration will consequently revoke the Roadless Rule and move forward with plans to lease the land for logging.

Aerial view of the Tongass National Forest. Alan Wu / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0


The drive to open up Tongass National Forest to logging, as well as energy and mineral exploration, started in 2018 when Alaska's Governor Bill Walker asked the federal government to consider removing protections for the forest. While Alaska's senators have supported the idea, environmental advocates have criticized it, according to the AP.

The U.S. Forest Service evaluated several plans, including more moderate ones that would maintain protections for 80 percent of the forest and another that would have opened up logging and road construction to 2.3 million acres. The Forest Service, however, decided to fully remove the Roadless Rule protections and open 9 million acres to developers and loggers, according to a statement from the Department of Agriculture, as The New York Times reported.

"This administration has opted to take the road well traveled by continuing to spend tens of millions of dollars every year to expand logging roads for a dying old-growth timber industry," said Andy Moderow, a director for the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement, as The Guardian reported. "This is bad for people, bad for a sustainable economy and bad for wildlife."

Earthjustice, an environmental legal-advocacy group that successfully stopped development in Tongass in March, said it would fight the plan in the courts. Katie Glover, an attorney for Earthjustice, said, "We will use every tool available to continue defending this majestic and irreplaceable national forest," as the AP reported.

Scientists have also criticized the plan, saying that Tongass is one of the world's largest carbon sinks, absorbing nearly 8 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution that the U.S. emits. Scientists also note that cutting down the old growth trees will put trapped greenhouse gases back into the atmosphere, which is particularly imprudent when the world is grappling with increasingly severe heat waves and wildfires triggered by the climate crisis, as The New York Times reported.

"The Forest Service's environmental impact statement is junk science on assessing the impacts of releasing the carbon," said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist and president of Geos Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies climate change, to The New York Times. "They are saying that the carbon that would be released by logging the timber is insignificant. There's no science that supports their analysis."

That sentiment was echoed by Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, who vowed to fight the lifting of the Roadless Rule, as the AP reported. She said in a statement that the new plan will pour "gasoline on the inferno of climate change. These towering ancient trees take enormous amounts of carbon out of the air and we need them now more than ever. We'll do everything possible to keep these magnificent giants standing for centuries to come."

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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