Tongass National Forest considered for more protections

This image shows a view from Eagle Glacier Cabin in the Tongass National Forest. The Biden administration is preparing to repeal a Trump-era rule that opened up the forest to large-scale road development to facilitate logging of old-growth trees.

A Trump-era decision to open the Tongass National Forest to large-scale road building and logging is about to be toppled.

Alaskan Inuit have a new role with a United Nations agency in safeguarding their culture and livelihood in the Arctic.

And Sen. Lisa Murkowski is taking a leadership role in advancing legislation that investigates abuses at former Indigenous boarding schools.

There’s more news in “Five Things to Know.”

Tongass Roadless Rule may stand

The Biden administration is about to cut off any chance of major road construction that would open up America’s largest national forest to industrial logging.

The U.S. Forest Service and Department of Agriculture have announced a plan to overturn a Trump-era rule for major road construction in the Tongass National Forest.

The Tongass is the world’s largest remaining old-growth temperate rain forest. Known as the crown jewel of American forests, it is the site of ancient trees and supports some of the largest wild salmon populations in the world.

Under former President Donald Trump, the Roadless Rule Protection was removed from the Tongass, allowing for large-scale clearcutting. Timber harvesting already was allowed in the forest, but there has been ongoing political pressure to allow for more.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska’s three members in Congress had lobbied for the exemptions to the Roadless Rule Protection, which the Biden administration now plans to restore.

“Alaskans deserve access to the resources that the Tongass provides — jobs, renewable energy resources, and tourism, not a government plan that treats human beings within a working forest like an invasive species,” Dunleavy said this week.

Public comment is expected to open next week on overturning the 2018 administration rule. The new restrictions will ban logging or road building across nine million acres, or roughly half of the Tongass National Forest.

“We commend President Biden and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in taking steps to restore the faith and trust of Alaskans who recognize that industrial-scale, old-growth logging is a relic of the past in Southeast Alaska,” said Andy Moderow, Alaska director of the Alaska Wilderness League.

It “would be difficult to overstate how flawed the Trump administration’s rule-making process was that ultimately stripped roadless protections from the Tongass despite widespread opposition in Southeast Alaska and the public at large,” Moderow said.

The Tongass supports a $2 billion tourism economy that spans recreation, hunting, and sport and commercial salmon fishing.

The forest also acts as a carbon sponge, absorbing millions of tons of greenhouse gases each year. Scientists say that the ancient trees sequester the carbon, and if they’re cut down the emissions would be released into the atmosphere.

Inuit council’s maritime role in the Arctic

An international council representing 180,000 Inuit from Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia have joined a United Nations agency with oversight of Arctic ship safety and prevention of marine pollution.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council now has a seat at the International Maritime Organization. As ice thaws in the Arctic, the Inuit are disproportionately impacted by the changes, according to Canada’s National Observer. The ocean and sea ice are “central to survival and culture,” said Lisa Koperqualuk, vice president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

“There’s a number of levels of negative impacts and we need to protect our marine ecosystem as it relates to our knowledge, our cultures, and our way of life,” Koperqualuk said on social media.

Increased Arctic ship traffic is related to multi-national interest in natural resources, including fishing and mining, as well as to a rise in Arctic tourism.

The council’s new status at the UN agency allows the organization to participate at meetings and make recommendations.

Murkowski takes lead on Indigenous boarding school legislation

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has signed on as the lead Senate Republican co-sponsor of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools Act. Rep. Don Young is a co-sponsor in the House.

Murkowski, who serves as vice chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said that “for many years, thousands of Native children were taken from their families, homes, and communities, and forced to attend boarding schools far away," she said.

"These Indian boarding schools stripped Native children of their identities and forced them to assimilate and conform to an identity that was thought to be more ‘acceptable; to Western society,” Murkowski said.

Children not only lost their culture and communities, but also suffered from abuse and disease. They often lived in crowded conditions and were prevented from practicing their traditions or speaking their tribal language.

Murkowski said the legislation will investigate abuses, and locate graves of Native children who died at the boarding schools far from their homes and communities.

Murkowski said she looked forward to holding hearings and finalizing a bill that will “fully address the injustices done to Native peoples by Indian boarding schools as a result of federal assimilationist policies.”

America’s military aims in the Arctic

Alaska makes America an Arctic nation. Sen. Lisa Murkowski reminded Alaskans of their unique status when she announced this week that a new Arctic security defense center operated by the Defense Department will be based in the 49th state.

Anchorage will be the location of the future Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies. The mission of the new center will be to “build strong and sustainable domestic and international networks of security leaders and promote and conduct focused research on Arctic security to advance DoD security priorities in the Arctic region.”

“I have been very outspoken to both the president and his administration that the Ted Stevens Arctic Center for Security Studies must be located in Alaska,” Murkowski said.

“We are the state that makes America an Arctic nation and our geo-strategic location creates unparalleled possibilities available nowhere else.”

The center’s focus will include upholding “the rules-based order in the Arctic” and aligning with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s priorities to address the impacts of climate change in the region.

Rep. Young on Coast Guard projects for Alaska

U.S. Rep. Don Young discussed with U.S. Coast Guard leaders their expansion plans for Alaska and their focus on the Arctic, as millions of dollars in capital projects are anticipated. (Listen to audio clip.)

“The Coast Guard rightly speaks of the ‘tyranny of distance’ in Alaska; with more coastline than the Lower 48, the Coast Guard has rightly prioritized investments in our state and should continue to do so,” Young said.

At a House subcommittee hearing, Young heard testimony from Vice Admiral Paul Thomas, the Coast Guard’s Commandant for Mission Support.

The topic was infrastructure funding for Alaska projects, in a package just approved by Congress and signed into law. Funds include $188 million slated for Coast Guard projects in Alaska.

The congressman said he welcomed the Coast Guard’s “focus on the Arctic and the opportunities it holds for our nation as the region’s profile continues to rise in the years ahead.”

Contact Linda F. Hersey at 907-459-7575 or at lhersey@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.

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