The Trump administration is proposing opening more than 180,000 acres of the country’s largest national forest, known as America’s Amazon, for logging.
The Agriculture Department proposal unveiled Tuesday would allow road construction and reclassify forest area – including “165,000 old-growth acres” – of the huge Tongass National Forest in the panhandle of southeastern Alaska.
The forest – about the size of West Virginia – and region form the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. The area is a vibrant habitat for bear, eagle and salmon, plus towering old-growth cedar, hemlock and spruce. It includes Alaska’s capital, Juneau, and 31 other communities.
The department said the proposal, which will be published this week, exempts Tongass from the USDA’s 2001 “roadless rule,” which generally bars new roads in certain areas of national forests. The proposal lays out five alternatives to the change, including leaving the roadless rule in force.
Both supporters and opponents of the proposal say it has important economic implications.
Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said he personally raised the forest’s productive potential with President Donald Trump. He said the 2001 rule “shut down the timber industry in Southeast Alaska, wiping out jobs and economic opportunity,” but the new proposal is “the first step to rebuilding an entire industry, putting Alaskans back to work, and diversifying Alaska’s economy.”
A coalition of environmental groups said the proposal would be bad for the region’s environment, which drives the tourism and fishing economies.
“This is another Trump administration attempt to roll back protections for wildlife and hand over public lands to private interests,” Defenders of Wildlife said in a joint statement.
The administration has previously removed acreage from two national monuments and worked to open more federal lands and waters to oil drilling and mining.
The proposal is in the form of a draft environmental impact statement and will be open for public comment.
CNN’s Bill Weir contributed to this report.