TONGASS FOREST, ALASKA
WOMEN FOR FORESTS
Picking berries in the Tongass, traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Peoples - Photo via Emily Arasim/WECAN International
The Tongass Rainforest of Alaska is the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Peoples; the largest national forest in the U.S.; and has been called 'America’s climate forest' due to its unsurpassed ability to sequester carbon and mitigate climate impacts. 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. Logging in the Tongass destroys sacred sites of the Indigenous Peoples of the region, damages areas of traditional and customary use, and harms watersheds and rivers as well as the global climate. Even with a destructive history of industrial logging, the Tongass still contains the largest remaining tracts of temperate old-growth rainforest in the world and a vital solution to our current climate crisis.
In 2001 the National Roadless Rule, adopted by the United States Forest Service, implemented sweeping environmental protections, protecting 9.2 million acres in the Tongass National Forest and upwards of 58 million acres of national forest lands from further development, virtually preventing old-growth logging; roadbuilding; and coal, gas, oil, and other mineral leasing. The Roadless Rule has allowed the forest to heal, with second-growth coming back into areas of severe devastation. The rule continues to have tremendous public support, with a 2019 poll finding three-fourths of the general public in support of the Roadless Rule.
However, On October 23, 2020, at the behest of the Trump Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) finalized plans to open up all 16.7 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to logging and other forms of development, stripping protections that had safeguarded one of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests for nearly two decades. More information in our full press release here.
The WECAN Indigenous Women's Tongass Delegation advocating for the Roadless Rule in Washington D.C. alongside allies. Photo Credit: Melissa Lyttle
As parts of Alaska are warming at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the planet, maintaining an intact Tongass ecosystem is critical to providing climate change solutions for Alaska and international climate efforts. Additionally, keeping the Tongass intact will also protect unique habitat for hundreds of species, like salmon, bears, and deer, all of which, in turn, support local economies based on fishing, hunting, and tourism. Currently, tourism and fishing account for 25 percent of jobs in Southeast Alaska while logging only provides 1 percent.
Work in the Tongass builds off of decades of action, research, and advocacy by local community members, Indigenous women leaders. The WECAN Tongass Women for Forests Indigenous Representatives and allies understand the gravity of the issue and are united in calling for support of the current Roadless Rule and its protection of the Tongass, which is also vital for Indigenous peoples' survival in the region. Please continue reading for more campaign and action updates, information about our past delegation, and further details and research on the importance of the Tongass rainforest.
Clear cut logging on Prince of Whales Island, Alaska - Photo via Emily Arasim/WECAN International
Action & Campaign Updates
In order to fulfill the commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement,
the Tongass forest must be protected immediately and for generations to come!
50 Organizations Call on President Biden to Protect Tongass and
Carbon-rich Forests Under U.S. Climate Commitments
Recently, 50 organizations, including WECAN, submitted a letter to the Biden Administration calling for carbon-dense forests, including the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, to be specifically protected in the United States’ Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), a plan for climate action that is integral to the international Paris climate agreement. The NDC, which is currently being drafted by Biden’s climate team, will be presented to the United Nations later this year.
“Article 5 of the Paris Agreement encourages Parties to conserve and enhance sinks and reservoirs, including forests,” the letter states. “The United States’ Nationally Determined Contribution cannot approach the needed commitment level without strong, science-based natural climate solutions that include protecting all of our remaining old and mature forests, like those in the Tongass. Including the Tongass in our NDC will send a signal to the world that the U.S. is ready to lead on protecting critical natural climate solutions.” See full letter here.
The letter calls on federal climate leaders to take bold, science-based action to preserve old-growth forests as a way to address climate change. This starts with fully restoring Roadless Rule protections in the Tongass National Forest, and includes immediately ending industrial logging of other mature and old-growth forests stands and trees, in consultation with Indigenous and other affected communities. The Biden Administration released the U.S. NDC on Earth Day in connection to the Leaders Summit on Climate. Forest protection is mentioned in the NDC, and WECAN looks forward to ensuring the protection of all old growth forests, including the Tongass!
WECAN Tongass Hub Develops New Proposal Calling For Indigenous Rights, Food Sovereignty, and the Protection of the Tongass!
In March 2021, WECAN Tongass Indigenous Representatives, Rebekah Sawers (Yupik) and Wanda Culp (Tlingit) (both pictured left), brought forward a proposal to advocate for Indigenous rights and sovereignty, and the protection of their forest homelands in the Tongass Rainforest of Alaska.
The Tongass Rainforest is the traditional homelands of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Peoples. It is the largest national forest in the U.S., and has been called 'America’s climate forest' due to its unsurpassed ability to sequester carbon and mitigate climate impacts. For decades however, industrial scale logging has been destroying this precious ecosystem, and disrupting the traditional lifeways, medicine, and food systems of the regions Indigenous communities.
The WECAN Tongass Indigenous Representatives have been developing alternatives to local and national governance structures that have allowed the massive logging and destruction of their forests. Their proposal builds on these alternatives, and focuses on bringing forward matriarchal values that uplift local food sovereignty, traditional tribal governance structures and protect local forests and water ways. Rebekah and Wanda are continuing to work with local and national governance bodies to push their proposal forward. You can read their proposal here.
WECAN Joins Lawsuit to Protect the Tongass
and Save the Roadless Rule
WECAN is organizing at the local and national level to reinstate the Roadless Rule, protect the climate, and uphold Indigenous peoples sovereignty. On December 23, 2020, Earthjustice and co-counsel Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of several Alaska Native Tribes, Southeast Alaska small businesses, and conservation organizations. The lawsuit targets the Trump Administration's decision in October 2020 to rollback 2001 National Roadless Rule protections in the Tongass, opening up over 9 million acres of previously protected forest lands to logging, roadbuilding, and further development.
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. Please learn more in the full press release here.
Wanda Culp, WECAN Tongass Regional Coordinator, and Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Executive Director looking out at the Tongass National Forest- Photo via WECAN International/Katherine Quaid
The aftermath of destructive logging practices in the Tongass National Forest - Photo via WECAN International/Emily Arasim
Indigenous Women's Tongass Advocacy Delegations
Historic Indigenous Women's Tongass Delegation Advocates
in Washington D.C.
The historic Indigenous Women's Tongass Delegation meet with Jim Hubbard, the new Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, who will supervise the Forest Service at the USDA, and his staff in Washington D.C. - Photo via Melissa Lyttle
"We are here in support of the current Roadless Rule to protect the largest national forest in the country, the Alaska Tongass National Forest, which is in Tlingit territory. Our people have been here over 10,000 years, and we are here to protect and preserve the land so we can be here 10,000 years more. Our culture is alive and we want our traditional ways of life that have protected the forest to continue for future generations." -- Kari Ames, Tlingit, Alaska Native Voices Cultural Heritage Guide, Keeper of traditional life-ways
From March 11th to 13th, 2019, a WECAN International Delegation of Indigenous Women from the Tongass Rainforest of Alaska assembled in Washington, D.C. to advocate for the Tongass, and the continuation of the Roadless Rule, an important measure to protect Alaska's Tongass National Forest, which falls within the traditional territories of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Peoples.
The Delegation to D.C. was the first time Tlingit women traveled to the Capitol to fight for and protect their traditional territory, communities, and the global climate. WECAN International was grateful to partner with the environmental firm, Earthjustice as the women participated in 16 meetings, including the Alaska Delegation, Congressional committee staff, USDA, and the Forest Service, to address current attacks on forest protections. WECAN International also held a public event where the women shared their community stories and calls to action to protect their ancient forest homelands.
The Indigenous Women's Tongass Delegation and WECAN Executive Director outside of the capitol in Washington D.C. - Photo via Melissa Lyttle
The Indigenous Women's Tongass Delegation prepares to meet with congressional staff, the USDA, and the Forest Service in Washington D.C. - Photo via Melissa Lyttle
Following the Indigenous Women's Tongass Delegation, two Congress members, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Representative Ruben Gallego (D-NM) introduced The Roadless Area Conservation Act, on May 2nd, 2019, which aims to prevent logging and destructive road-building in the Tongass National Forest.
The Tongass is the largest remaining temperate old-growth rainforest in the world and is critical in helping stabilize the climate. The legislation being introduced is a key effort to protecting this vital forest and the life-ways of the Indigenous communities who have lived in and cared for this forest ecosystem since Time Immemorial. We continue to advocate for and monitor this legislation closely, as well as the U.S. Forest Service moving forward with a large timber harvest sale on the Prince of Wales Island. This devastating project would lead to massive old-growth logging in the Tongass National Forest. WECAN International stands with the Tongass and the Tlingit!
Second Indigenous Women's Tongass Delegation Advocates
in Washington D.C.
From November 11-15 a WECAN Indigenous Women's Tongass Delegation and allies traveled to Washington D.C. to advocate for the protection of over 9 million acres of ancient old-growth forest, and the continuation of the Roadless Rule.
WECAN Tongass Delegates, Adrien Lee (center right) and Kari Ames (center left), with Osprey Orielle Lake (second from left) rallying for environmental and climate justice alongside Jane Fonda (right) at #FireDrillFridays On November 15 in Washington D.C. Photo Credit: WECAN International - Katherine Quaid
WECAN Delegates included Kari Ames, Tlingit, Alaska Native Voices Cultural Heritage Guide and keeper of traditional life-ways; Adrien Nichol Lee, Tlingit, President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 12 and keeper of cultural Tlingit education; Along with Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International.
The Delegation met with members of Congress, committee staff, and the Forest Service to address current threats to forest protections. They spoke at a congressional reception, where they met with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) who co-introduced The Roadless Area Conservation Act in May 2019, which aims to prevent logging and destructive road-building in the Tongass National Forest. They also rallied and spoke alongside Jane Fonda during #FireDrillFridays, attended a public hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee, which the WECAN Tongass Delegation was instrumental in manifesting, and submitted questions and comments during a Roadless Rule public meeting held by the Forest Service. For full coverage of the delegation’s advocacy in Washington D.C. Please see the corresponding newsletter here.
The WECAN Indigenous Women's Tongass Delegation with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) (center left) and WECAN Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake (right), at a congressional reception to discuss the Tongass National Forest and codifying the 2001 National Roadless Rule into law. Photo Credit: WECAN International - Katherine Quaid
Adrien Lee, WECAN Tongass Delegate questioning U.S. Forest Service representatives during the USDA Forest Service Alaska Roadless Rulemaking Public Meeting in Washington D.C. on November 14, 2019. Photo Credit: WECAN International - Katherine Quaid
Third Indigenous Women’s Delegation Advocates to
Protect Tongass Forest Homelands in Alaska
The Indigenous Women’s Tongass Delegation included: Wanda Culp, Tlingit, WECAN Tongass Coordinator; Rebekah Sawers, Yupik, student and WECAN Tongass Representative; Mamie Williams, Tlingit, Cultural Knowledge Keeper; and Kari Ames, Tlingit, Alaska Native Voices Cultural Heritage Guide. The delegation is joined by Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of WECAN.
On August 12, 2020, in the midst of a global health pandemic and climate crisis, a third WECAN Indigenous Women's Tongass Delegation met with congressional staff from Washington D.C. (virtually) to advocate for the Tongass National Forest, Indigenous rights, and our global climate. The repeal of the Roadless Rule would enact cultural genocide on local Indigenous communities, destroy unique forest ecosystems, further the climate crisis, and harm local economies. In anticipation of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, The Delegation met with law-makers to advocate for protections for the Tongass, and to ask legislators to endorse the new Roadless Area Conservation Act.
Currently, The 2001 National Roadless Rule is undergoing a federal process to exempt millions of acres of old-growth forest in Alaska. In 2019, the Trump administration published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), proposing the repeal of Roadless Rule protections across the Tongass National Forest. Deforestation and industrial scale logging has been linked to zoonotic disease outbreaks, such as the novel coronavirus, and is a driver of carbon emissions, propelling the U.S. efforts to address the climate crisis farther away from the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement targets. Learn more about delegation in our full press release.
Please watch WECAN International's videos detailing our ongoing campaign in the Tongass National Forest.
The People Have Spoken: Protect the Tongass Rainforest
Tlingit Women Advocate During Historic Delegation To Protect Tongass Rainforest
Call To Action To Protect The Tongass Rainforest
Stand with the Tlingit and the Tongass
Defend Forests, Climate, and Communities -
Protect the Tongass!
WECAN Tongass Hub
Wanda Kashudoha Loescher Culp, WECAN Tongass Coordinator, WECAN Tongass Representatives and WECAN international staff are working together as the WECAN Tongass Hub to develop long-term strategies to protect the Tongass Rainforest, and Indigenous rights and lifeways in the region. Please meet members of the WECAN Tongass hub down below!
WANDA KASHUDOHA LOESCHER CULP - TLINGIT
Artist, Activist, and WECAN Tongass Coordinator
Wanda “Kashudoha” Loescher Culp is an Indigenous Tlingit activist, advocate, and hunter, fisher and gatherer of wild foods, born and raised in Juneau, and living in Hoonah, Alaska. She is the mother of three children, and is recognized as a storyteller, cultural interpreter, playwright, and co-producer of the film Walking in Two Worlds. As of 2016, Wanda has united with WECAN as a Regional Coordinator, revitalizing initiatives to protect the Tongass Rainforest and the traditional rights and lifeways of the regions Indigenous peoples.
REBEKAH SAWERS - YUPIK
Student and WECAN Tongass Representative
Rebekah Sawers is an Alaskan Native Yupik Student and mother, daughter and aunt who lives in the Tongass and works with Indigenous youth in educational programs in Hoonah, Alaska. Her husband and daughter are Tlingit, and Rebekah is part of a collective of women who are working to protect the Tongass Rainforest.
KARI AMES - TLINGIT
Alaska Native Voices Cultural Heritage Guide, keeper of traditional life-ways, WECAN Tongass Representative
Kari Ames is of the Tlingit Nation. She grew up and lives in Xuna Kaawuu (People of the North Wind) also called Hoonah, which is a small town of 800 people on Chichagof Island in Southeast Alaska. Her Tlingit name is Dee Yaa, and she is Yeil Raven moiety of the Lʼuknaxh.adi (Coho Salmon Clan) from the Frog House. Kari is currently working for Alaska Native Voices as a Cultural Heritage Guide in Glacier Bay National Park. She is deeply involved in her culture — weaving the past and the future together, living and learning as much as she can about her culture including traditional singing, drumming, hunting and gathering of plants.
ADRIEN LEE - TLINGIT
President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 12, keeper of Tlingit cultural education, WECAN Tongass Representative
Adrien Nichol Lee is Tlìngit Chookenshàa living in Hoonah, Alaska year around. She is President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 12. Adrien and her family harvest from the Tongass to prepare for the long winters, and while she has spent the past seven years in management work, she has also dedicated herself to pursuing her grandmother’s footsteps in cultural Tlingit education.
Protecting the forest means respecting Indigenous rights - A new report adds to the growing body of evidence that Indigenous peoples are the best protectors of the forests they call home. [Mongabay]
Preserving and restoring forests is a key climate solution - Halting the loss and degradation of natural systems and promoting their restoration have the potential to contribute over one-third of the total climate change mitigation scientists say is required by 2030. [ICUN]
The Tongass is a global champion in carbon sequestration - According to the Forest Service, the Tongass accounts for approximately 8 percent of the carbon stored in our National Forests. [Dela Salla 2015]
Cutting Forests down adds to carbon pollution - Globally, deforestation (8-15%) and forest degradation (6-13%) contribute more greenhouse gas pollution than the world’s entire transportation network, which is why countries, including the U.S., must commit to reducing emissions and protecting forest sinks. [GEOS Institute]
New budget data reveal that the USFS has continued to lose millions of dollars on Tongass timber sales in recent years. In total, the USFS has lost approximately $600 million over the last twenty years or $30 million per year on average. [Taxpayers for Common Sense]
The 2001 National Roadless Rule is publicly supported - When the Forest Service developed the Rule in 1999, more than 1.6 Million people commented on the rulemaking process, more than any other rule in the nation’s history. [EarthJustice]
The Tongass is home to an abundance of wildlife - More than 400 species of land and marine wildlife inhabit Tongass National Forest, including bald eagles, black and brown bears, wolves, moose, and Sitka black-tailed deer [Pew Trusts]
The Tongass and its neighboring forest, the Chugach, are home to 48 million salmon annually, with a value to commercial fisheries averaging $88 million. [American Fisheries Society]
in Southeast Alaska, the Timber industry accounts for less than 1 percent of the local economy. [Southeast Alaska Conservation Council]