“The Forest Service’s environmental impact statement is junk science on assessing the impacts of releasing the carbon,” said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist and president of Geos Institute, a nonprofit organization that studies climate change. “They are saying that the carbon that would be released by logging the timber is insignificant,” he said. “There’s no science that supports their analysis.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who has urged Mr. Trump to lift the rule, contends that removing the roadless protections would help Alaska’s economy, but not necessarily lead to the loss of major swaths of the forest. In a 2019 opinion article in the Washington Post, she wrote, “The one-size-fits-all roadless rule is an unnecessary layer of paralyzing regulation that should never have been applied to Alaska,” adding that it hurts the timber industry but “also affects mining, transportation, energy and more.”
She also said that “lifting the roadless rule would not automatically result in the development of more of the forest.” Lifting the rule, she said, would not affect the entire forest but would open about 9 million of the forest’s 16 million acres. The rest of the land would remain protected under other state and federal statutes.
Environmentalists said the devastation to the forest could still be consequential.
“Make no mistake,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, an advocacy group. “This is about gutting protections for the largest carbon sink and the most biologically rich national forest in the United States. This is America’s Amazon,”
Mr. Kolton noted that the opening of the Tongass to development comes as part of a broader push by Mr. Trump to lift longstanding protections across Alaska’s wilderness. The administration has also opened up the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, and this year proposed to open almost all of the National Petroleum Reserve, far to the west of the refuge, to additional drilling.
“They are places that sit at the center of three big crises our country is facing — the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis and racial justice,” said Mr. Kolton, noting that Alaska Native tribes living in those areas have also opposed the developments.
The administration had until last month been moving swiftly to grant a permit to Pebble Mine, a vast proposed gold and copper extraction facility, until the president’s son, Donald J. Trump Jr., publicly opposed it. Last month the administration imposed new conditions on that project which could delay the permit until after the election.