This Wednesday, President Trump’s administration announced plans to open over 9.3 million acres of the Tongass National Forest to logging and roadbuilding. The Tongass is the world’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforest and our country’s oldest and largest national forest. The forest stores nearly 8 percent of all the carbon stored in US forests, making it the nation’s largest single carbon sink. After nearly 2 decades of protection under the Roadless Rule, the centuries old old-growth trees are in jeopardy.
Opening up the Tongass is not just about climate change, though. This abhorrent action infringes upon Indigenous sovereignty, and the integrity of our democracy as a whole. Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples have lived in and depended on the Tongass for as long as ten thousand years. During the decision-making on the Roadless Rule this summer, the federal government failed to adequately involve sovereign tribal governments in their efforts. While tribal governments asked to slow the decision-making process in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Forest pushed ahead with the original plan. By continuing ahead with the exemption, the federal government has failed Alaska Natives who have lived in the Tongass since time immemorial, people who will be disproportionately affected by the decision to open the Tongass to development.
This refusal to listen extends beyond local tribal governments and to the will of the public more broadly, too. During the early public comment periods on the proposal, a staggering 96 percent of over 250 thousand public comments opposed any exemption to the existing Roadless Rule in the Tongass. Only one percent of commenters supported the proposed full exemption. What we see here is the government operating against of the will of the vast majority. We cannot claim to be a representative democracy when our government fails to listen to its people. We elect the government to serve We the People, not timber operators or fossil fuel companies who are fueling the climate crisis.
This November 3rd, you’re not voting for Biden or Trump. You’re not voting for liberal or conservative. You’re voting for our climate, our rights, and our democracy. We need a government who puts human and environmental health over exploitation and profit. Donald Trump has already reversed nearly a hundred environmental regulations in just four years’ time, jeopardizing human health with loosened air and water quality standards during a pandemic. We need a government who represents our interests and our needs. Like him or not, Joe Biden is our best shot for the well-being of our planet and the integrity of our democracy. Go vote!
Hannah Reynolds is a junior in the Anthropology Department at Princeton University from Upstate NY.