There are 14 different bills packaged together in H.R. 2578, the Conservation and Economic Growth Act, many of which would roll back some form of environmental protection—particularly around state parks—opening up new areas for hunting, fishing, logging, and other activities where they are currently banned.
Among these is logging of old-growth in the Tongass National Forest, in Southeast Alaska. The forest is one of the world’s largest temperate rain forests, and is home to some of the world’s last old-growth forest. Old-growth forest is characterized by very large, very old trees and exceptional bio-diversity. Lumber cut from old-growth trees is also the most valuable.
Title III of H.R. 2578 would give close to 65,000 acres of land in the Tongass to the Sealaska Native Corporation. According to a PEW Charitable Trust press release, this is “part of an effort to modify the outstanding claims that Sealaska has under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA),” which was passed by Congress in 1971.
The 65,000 acres in question represent less than one-half of 1 percent of the total land area of the 17-million-acre national forest.
An open letter from 300 scientists specializing in conservation and management of natural resources states that “The vast majority of these lands would be subjected to clear-cut logging, including some of the most biologically rich, large-tree old-growth rainforest remaining in the Tongass.”
The bill would also roll back other environmental protections, including the Endangered Species Act—given that the forest is home to several endangered species.
Sealaska’s president and CEO, Chris McNeil Jr., responded to the open letter with his own open letter, in which he said, “The Tongass National Forest is the tribal homeland of the 21,000 Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian who own Sealaska.” These are the largest tribes in Alaska, he said, yet they can access to only a tiny portion of the forest to sustain themselves.
Sealaska’s proposal enables high-grading in the Tongass. The logging practice targets rare, big-tree old-growth forest, but preserves smaller trees so they can continue to grow.
Congress banned the practice in 1990 with the Tongass Timber Reform Act, yet “The legislation now sought by Sealaska Corporation would ignore this law preferentially for the corporation and eliminate a sizable fraction of the remaining, large-tree old-growth,” according to the letter from conservation groups.
It notes that while the Tongass still has close to 5 million acres of old-growth, most of the largest trees have already been lost to high-grading.
McNeil said that the motives of the Sealaska Corporation are being misrepresented. According to McNeil, Sealaska was a designated recipient of the land under ANCSA, and their goal is to use the land to “promote the economic well-being and cultural vitality of Southeast Alaska’s First Peoples.”
“The Tongass was taken by the United States in 1907 to create the Tongass National Forest, which is simply a euphemistic way of saying that our land was stolen,” McNeil said. “Conservation organizations are reacting to conservation issues without any understanding, much less empathy for the consequences to Native peoples who live in and depend on the forest for their livelihoods and their quality of life.”McNeil asserts that Sealaska’s proposal will offer “greater conservation protections for ecologically valuable lands within the Tongass.” Conservation is a part of Sealaska’s goal because, he said, “these are the lands that have sustained us for thousands of years and will do so for generations to come.”
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.