The Biden administration has announced that it plans to “repeal or replace” a Trump era provision that allowed economic development like roads across over half of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Obviously, expanding opportunities for industrial activities across critical stretches of forest could incur lasting damage to the environment. According to the Biden administration’s announcement, the Department of Agriculture — which is currently led by Biden appointee Tom Vilsack — is planning to publish the proposed update to the government’s approach in August of this year.
Agriculture Department communications director Matt Herrick told The Washington Post that the department “recognizes the Trump administration’s decision on the Alaska roadless rule was controversial and did not align with the overwhelming majority of public opinion across the country and among Alaskans.” Herrick added as follows:
‘The majority of comments recognized the important role of the Tongass National Forest and roadless areas protections to tourism, fishing, recreation, indigenous cultures and the uniqueness of the temperate rainforest. We recognize the vital role the Forest and its inventoried roadless areas play in communities, and in the economy and culture of Southeast Alaska, as well as for climate resilience.’
When in office, Trump settled upon removing the entire forest from the prohibitions against development after a meeting with Alaska Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy. After the newly announced plans to change federal guidelines, Dunleavy insisted that his administration “will use every tool available to push back on the latest imposition.” Meanwhile, the Biden administration has also suspended oil and gas drilling permits for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that had originally been issued by the Trump administration. That refuge, like the Tongass National Forest, is situated in Alaska, and since no oil and gas industry leaders had gotten involved in the permit distribution, most of the drilling rights actually went to a state agency in Alaska.
Each of these moves, including the updates to handling development in both the Tongass National Forest and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, are part of the Biden administration’s push to re-prioritize environmental protection after the chaos of the Trump era. Among other steps, the Biden administration has also unveiled plans to undo the Trump administration’s changes to federal supervision of waterways. The Trump team had sought to reduce the range of waterways that were subject to federal protection, which allowed increased opportunities for unsupervised pollution.