President Donald Trump has asked his agriculture secretary to provide a regulations exemption in order to open millions of acres of protected land within Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to “potential logging, energy and mining projects,” The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The Post, citing conversations with three people briefed on the issue, said Trump asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue earlier this month to exempt the 16.7-million acre forest from Clinton-era logging restrictions that prevented the area from being open to some commercial interests for nearly 20 years. According to the paper, the move would impact “more than half of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest,” which is filled with “with old-growth spruce, hemlock and cedar, rivers running with salmon, and dramatic fjords.”
The move is the latest in ongoing efforts by the Trump administration to lift restrictions on protected lands in order to provide industry access to the land. Among other places, the administration has rolled back restrictions on Utah’s Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and the Bears Ears National Monument in what were two of the largest downsizes of protected lands in US history.
The Post, which noted that in 2016 the Forest Service completed a plan to “phase out old-growth logging” in the forest within 10 years, said it was “unclear how much logging would take place in the Tongass if federal restrictions were lifted because the Forest Service would have to amend its management plan to hold a new timber sale.”
“The 2016 plan identified 962,000 acres as suitable for commercial timber and suggested no more than 568,000 acres of that should be logged,” the Post said. It added that Congress had previously “designated more than 5.7 million acres of the forest as wilderness, which must remain undeveloped under any circumstances.” Under Trump’s plan, the paper said, 9.5 million acres could be impacted.
According to the paper, three unnamed sources said the President’s request to Perdue came after a conversation in late June with Alaska’s Republican governor, Mike Dunleavy, who supports the exemption. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, also supports the move, according to the paper, and, along with Dunleavy, has “pressed” Trump to provide an exemption.
In a statement provided to both CNN and the Post, Murkowski said the state’s entire congressional delegation has “always supported a full exemption” from the regulations, which she argued are “harming our ability to develop a sustainable, year-round economy for the Southeast region, where less than one percent of the land is privately held.”
The paper said three unnamed people from the Forest Service, which is under the Department of Agriculture, said the agency was “forging ahead with an exemption at Perdue’s instructions.”
CNN’s Alex Rogers contributed to this report.