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By Noelani Kirschner -Aug 9, 2021

Waterfall in forest by body of water (© Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty Images)
Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska is the nation’s largest national forest and is also home to over 400 species of wildlife. (© Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket/Getty Images)

The Biden administration is restoring environmental protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest and will work with tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations to conserve the United States’ largest national forest.

On July 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, outlining new initiatives and protections for the state’s natural resources.

The strategy ends large-scale logging of old-growth timber across the forest’s entire 6.8 million hectares — the largest area of old-growth forest in the United States.

“This is one of the first steps that we have seen towards the racial equity that was promised toward our Indigenous communities from the Biden administration,” Marina Anderson, administrator of the Organized Village of Kasaan in Ketchikan, Alaska, told the New York Times. “We have a lot on the table — the forest is everything to us.”

The Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska is home to over 400 species of wildlife — including bald eagles, moose and the world’s greatest concentration of black bears. The forest also boasts 800-year-old Sitka spruce trees.

Scientists have long touted the forest as one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. According to estimates, the forest stores 8% of the carbon of all the forests in the mainland United States combined. Capturing carbon from the atmosphere is essential to combating the climate crisis and helping cool the earth as its temperature

As a part of the strategy, the USDA plans to invest $25 million in sustainable opportunities for economic growth and community well-being. The USDA will work with tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations to identify priorities for future investments as well.

“We look forward to meaningful consultation with Tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations, and engaging with local communities, partners, and the State to prioritize management and investments in the region that reflect a holistic approach to the diverse values present in the region,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in a July 15 statement.

“This approach will help us chart the path to long-term economic opportunities that are sustainable and reflect Southeast Alaska’s rich cultural heritage and magnificent natural resources.”