Indigenous Women Uplift Biden Administration’s Decision to Protect the Tongass National Forest
SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA, California (July 15, 2021) – Today, the Biden Administration’s USDA announced it will restore full Roadless Rule protections, and end large-scale old growth timber sales across the entire 16 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) welcomes this promising announcement as a necessary step to addressing the environmental rollbacks of the previous administration.
The announcement was released as part of a new Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy, that will effectively end all old-growth logging and focus management resources for forest restoration practices in the Tongass. Beginning in the 1950’s, aggressive, controversial commercial logging clear-cut large areas of the Tongass, negatively impacting the forest and the local Indigenous Peoples who are tightly intertwined with the dynamic ecosystem. Ending old-growth logging will allow these centuries-old forests to heal, and improve wildlife habitat, local watersheds, and climate resiliency and mitigation.
The strategy will also center robust consultation with Tribes, Indigenous communities, and Alaska Native corporations to “support a diverse economy, enhance community resilience, and conserve natural resources.”
The announcement comes after many years of advocacy by tribal leadership, and local and national groups, including WECAN. On Monday, ahead of the announcement, a WECAN Indigenous Women’s Tongass Delegation met with White House officials to advocate for the protection of the Tongass forest, Indigenous rights and governance, the immediate reinstatement of the 2001 National Roadless Rule, and an end to all old-growth logging throughout the Tongass.
The Tongass exists within the traditional territories of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples. Protecting the forest is key for ensuring food sovereignty in Indigenous communities and combating centuries of colonial policies seeking to displace Indigenous peoples from their homelands. If the Tongass is left open to further industrial-scale logging and roadbuilding, it will disrupt the traditional lifeways, medicine, and food systems of the region's Indigenous communities, violating Indigenous sovereignty and endangering cultural survival.
The Tongass is responsible for holding more than 40% of all carbon stored by U.S. national forests. As one of the world’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforests, the Tongass is home to over 400 species of land and marine wildlife, and provides economic opportunity to thousands of residents. With Alaska experiencing record breaking weather, maintaining an intact Tongass ecosystem is a critical solution for the U.S. and international climate efforts. Forests are critical for stabilizing the climate, sequestering carbon, providing refuge for unique bio-diverse ecosystems, and meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
In response to the USDA announcement, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) Indigenous Women Tongass Representatives and WECAN Executive Director have issued the following statements:
"The Tongass Forest is my home. Home to the ancient Tlingit and Haida Indigenous Peoples. 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 Biden Administration’s restoration of the Roadless Rule is vital for protecting our forest homelands as Indigenous peoples of the Tongass. We will continue engaging with the Administration to ensure Indigenous women's voices are heard and our expertise consulted moving forward. For our communities and the climate it is time to invest in collaborative management practices that uplift Indigenous rights, food sovereignty, environmental protection and land conservation in Alaska's Tongass Forest. " Kashudoha Wanda Loescher Culp (Tlingit) WECAN Tongass Coordinator
“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 elated that the Biden Administration heeded Indigenous women’s call to restore roadless rule protections and end old-growth logging in the Tongass. Protecting the Tongass means supporting the growth of local business, ensuring community access to traditional foods and medicines, allowing the forest to heal from massive logging in the past while mitigating further climate chaos. It is important that this land stays wild and free." Rebekah Sawers (Yupik) WECAN Tongass Representative
"Climate change looks different in Alaska. It's like watching your way of life die from glaciers to salmon to trees-- suffering because we as human beings forgot our way of taking care of each other and Mother Earth. Growing up, we learned that we always take care of what we have so we can give that to the next generation, for we are only borrowing this land from our children. What condition are we giving the Tongass back in; can we say we did our best to take care of Mother Earth for our children and grandchildren? When you walk into a forest of old growth, like the Tongass, there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. The Tongass is home to countless animals and plants, we call family, and it is necessary to protect this home for our children and grandchildren. The Biden Administration can make that happen. Our future generations are counting on us." Mamie Williams (Tlingit) WECAN Tongass Representative
“As matriarchs we are on watch for future generations. I have a personal investment in the roadless rule being reinstated and the protection of our old-growth forests because I have children and I want to be able to tell them that we will have the support we need to protect our land. We are sovereign. We have never been separate from our ecosystem. Everything that our culture is belongs to this land, we are in coexistence with this land, we are part of this land. This land is very important to us, without key components of this land our future does not exist and that means cultural genocide for our people." Yolanda Fulmer (Tlingit), WECAN Tongass Indigenous Representative
“I am an Indigenous woman 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 restoration of the Roadless Rule, we can allow the land to heal and turn toward investment in Indigenous stewardship, local economies, and further protections for the salmon, bears, and all the living beings within Haa Aani, Our Homelands.” Kari Ames (Tlingit) keeper of traditional life-ways, WECAN Tongass Representative
“Old-growth forests are necessary for meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The USDA’s announcement today is a win for old-growth forests and Indigenous peoples whose homelands are finally healing after decades of destructive logging. Our natural forests are essential lungs of the Earth and we look forward to ensuring that Indigenous rights, food sovereignty, and collaboration are centered more than ever as the USDA moves forward to support vibrant communities and economies in the Tongass.” Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International
The Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International
www.wecaninternational.org - @WECAN_INTL
The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International is a 501(c)3 and solutions-based organization established to engage women worldwide in policy advocacy, on-the-ground projects, trainings, and movement building for global climate justice.