Protecting the Lungs of the Planet
December 22, 2022Dec 22, 2022By Mark Steinbuck
3 MIN READ doing good for planet
Unlike most of the forests in the lower 48, when you walk through Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, you walk amongst the ancients. With trees as old as 1,000 years, fed by 110 inches of rain every year, you are in a living emerald womb of Sitka spruce, salmon, seals, wolves and grizzlies. Even more ancient than the Tongass’ trees is the human presence, with Native peoples existing in place for 10,000 years or more.
Looking back just a few decades, old growth forests were misunderstood by many outsiders as dark, dead and decaying middles-of-nowhere, best served with a chainsaw to open it up and magically turn wood into money. Only recently has modern science and popular opinion caught up to long-held indigenous perspectives that our old growth forests are the best holders of a forest’s wealth, but not to be measured in boardfeet. If not for their own inherent value and sacredness, these old growth forests are essential for cleaning air and water, providing a site for health and recreation, storing massive amounts of carbon, and providing refuge for biodiversity.
In 2001, after years of science and input from federal land managers and tribal stakeholders, the US Forest Service adopted the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, helping to keep millions of acres of relatively undisturbed publicly owned forests from any new inroads that would make it easier for timber clearcuts and other resource extractions.
One of the largest areas protected under this rule is the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest. Even after 50% of it being logged since the 1970s, the Tongass still holds the record as our planet’s largest temperate rainforest, as well as holding the highest carbon density per acre of any terrestrial ecosystem on Earth (4x the Amazon!), earning it the title of America’s last “climate sanctuary.” With it also being home to over a quarter of the U.S. West Coast’s commercial salmon catch, it is also America’s “Salmon Forest,” and so is seen one of the most important, and endangered, ecosystems on Earth.
Unfortunately, after 20 years of successful conservation, the Trump Administration removed Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass, leaving it immediately threatened by large-scale timber extraction that will not only decimate this irreplaceable ecosystem, but also be a net financial loss for local communities and American taxpayers. It bears repeating: we are literally losing money for this sacred place to be destroyed.
The long plight of the Earth’s rainforests has never abated. But gaining popular attention in the 1980s, grassroots activists and global cultural icons alike began to speak out and create a movement of activism to help protect the rainforests.
Driven by his personal passion for the environment, Jerry Garcia, guitarist for the Grateful Dead and one of the most notable American musicians of the 20th century, played the 9/24/88 UN Rainforest Benefit Concert, and followed up with benefit albums and works of art highlighting the need to protect our rainforests.
In partnership with the Jerry Garcia Family and The Wilderness Society, KEEN hosted a benefit concert to Protect the Tongass on Earth Day, 4/22/21. Over 20 bands across the musical spectrum served up original performances to inspire the public and give a pathway to Protect the Tongass. With new proposed legislation (Roadless Rule Conservation Act) and a new administration in the White House, this is the time to act.
Driving donations to the cause is the KEEN x Garcia Collection, which gives 1% of proceeds to The Wilderness Society and its efforts to reinstate Roadless Rules protections in this critical landscape. Garcia’s 1993 painting Junglescape, an homage to the beauty of rainforests and their indigenous cultures, is featured on a limited-edition and individually numbered Newport sandal.
Let's stand with indigenous communities as they work to safeguard the Tongass and tell President Biden to protect our wildest forests — and make the Roadless Rule permanent. Click here to add your voice and sign the petition.
Together we can protect one of the most important climate sanctuaries on Earth, protecting clean air and water, recreation, wildlife, and massive amounts of stored carbon.
All Tongass Photos by Colin Arisman