WASHINGTON – Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, known as ‘America’s Climate Forest’, is facing destruction after the Trump Administration removed Roadless Rule protections from the Tongass on October 29, 2020. In response, a wide-ranging coalition of Indigenous communities, businesses, and conservation groups is filing a lawsuit targeting the Trump administration rollback.
Earthjustice and co-counsel Natural Resources Defense Council filed the lawsuit in federal court today on behalf of several Alaska Native Tribes, Southeast Alaska small businesses, and conservation organizations. The lawsuit challenges the Trump Administration’s decision to gut Roadless Rule protections across the entire Tongass National Forest and asks the court to reinstate the Roadless Rule on the Tongass.
The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) is joining the lawsuit, following years of advocacy to protect the Tongass. WECAN representatives joining the lawsuit include Indigenous women leaders who live in the Tongass and have been advocating for the protection of their forest homelands for decades, and WECAN’s Executive Director.
The Trump administration’s final record of decision exempts the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule, opening up over 9 million acres of previously protected forest lands to logging, roadbuilding, and further development. The 2001 National Roadless Rule established prohibitions on road construction in the U.S. National forests, ending decades of industrial scale extractive logging practices.
The Tongass exists within the traditional territories of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples. Protecting the forest is key for ensuring food security in Indigenous communities and combating centuries of colonial policies seeking to displace Indigenous peoples from their homelands. As the world’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforest, the Tongass is also home to over 400 species of land and marine wildlife, and provides economic opportunity to thousands of residents.
With Alaska experiencing record breaking heat, maintaining an intact Tongass ecosystem is a critical solution for the U.S. and international climate efforts. Climate scientists agree, forests are vital for stabilizing the climate, sequestering carbon, and providing refuge for unique bio-diverse ecosystems.
WECAN representatives joining the lawsuit issued the following statements:
“The Tongass Forest is my home. Home to the ancient Tlingit and Haida Indigenous Nations. It is where my ancestry originates, my bloodline is Indigenous to this land, its DNA is my DNA. The air we breathe, the water we depend on, the land we live upon, all pristine. It is a life to cherish. It is a way of living worth fighting for. The repeal of the Roadless Rule will only lead to the destruction of our homelands, and subsequently the destruction of our communities who depend upon the abundance of the forest. This is an attack on our peoples and the climate. The Trump Administration’s decision to open the Tongass to roads, logging and mining is an underhanded misuse of Congressional authority and the battle will go on— we will continue to rise in defense of our homelands.” Kashudoha Wanda Loescher Culp, Tlingit, activist and Tongass Coordinator for the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN)
“My name is Rebekah Sawers, I am Yupik and I live in Hoonah, Alaska. The process to repeal the Roadless Rule has been mired in corporate interests that do not represent the public but only seek to exploit the land and open the forest to further logging and mining interests. I am speaking out not only on behalf of my Tlingit daughter, but for all the other brothers, sisters, grandfathers and grandmothers who live in the Tongass and want the Roadless Rule to remain. Until October, the Roadless Rule had been in place for almost two decades, protecting the trees from mass logging, supporting the growth of local business, ensuring community access to traditional foods and medicines, and allowing the forest to heal. It is important that this land stays wild and free.” Rebekah Sawers, Yupik, student, WECAN Tongass Representative
“I am an Indigenous women of the Tlingit Nation of the L’uknaxh.ádi, the Coho Salmon Clan under the Raven moiety from the Frog House. I am deeply rooted to this land for thousands of generations as a steward of this land. We have been here since time immemorial our elders say, and I follow the footsteps of my ancestors. In the Tongass, there are innumerable fish and game populations, and unparalleled recreational and business opportunities. Fishing and tourism are billion dollar industries, which Southeast Alaska economies are based upon. Now, with the removal of the Roadless Rule by the Trump Administration, these growing businesses will be harmed, and our cultural and Indigenous rights to protect Haa Aani, Our Homelands, will be negatively impacted. I am a strong Tlingit woman standing with the Tongass, speaking for the Aas Kwaani, the Tree People, and I will continue to fight for the Tongass despite the government’s decision to side with industry over people. This is our way of life to fight for our Indigenous rights as human beings that live by the forest and tide, the Tlingit.” Kari Ames, Tlingit, keeper of traditional life-ways, WECAN Tongass Representative
“The decision by the Trump Administration to open up the Tongass to further industrial scale logging and development will accelerate the climate crisis and perpetuate genocidal policies by impacting the livelihoods, cultural practices and sovereignty of Indigenous communities living in their traditional forest homelands. Time after time, we see overwhelming public support for the Roadless Rule and protection of the Tongass and national forests, yet the Administration has made it clear they are not working on behalf of the people but only corporate interests. It is critical that we stand with Indigenous forest protectors, and ensure a livable climate and planet for all future generations.” Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN)
This post was originally published on Radio Free.