Tongass National Forest, Alaska Wrangell Island Project


Logging would cut old-growth Sitka spruce and hemlock like this.

Photo credit: Maranda Hamme

Why this forest is special

The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States, encompassing nearly 17 million acres in southeast Alaska. It is the heart of the world’s largest remaining, mostly intact temperate rainforest, abundant with a wide array of wildlife and fish, deep fjords, icefields, glaciers, islands and snowcapped mountains. One-quarter of the entire West Coast’s annual commercial salmon harvest comes from the Tongass, earning it the unofficial designation “America's Salmon Forest.” The Tongass still has about 5 million acres of old-growth forest, making it a carbon-storing champion.

Wrangell Island Project

The project will log about 430 acres of old growth and is expected to remove up to 7 million board feet of timber through multiple sales. Wrangell Island #1 is one of several old growth sales offered in the Tongass.

Carbon storage and biodiversity

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees national forests, has explicitly recognized the Tongass’ global significance as a carbon-rich forest reserve. The Tongass also hosts the highest density of brown bears in North America, as well as bald eagles, Sitka black-tailed deer, flying squirrels, Queen Charlotte goshawks, humpback whales, porpoises, seals, sea otters, sandhill cranes, hummingbirds and many other species.

Why these trees should remain standing

Northern coastal temperate rainforests are critical regional carbon sinks.vi Forests of the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska store exceptional levels of carbon and are among the most carbon dense ecosystems in the world. After decades of clearcutting old growth, the Forest Service admits that the remaining amount in some regions, including areas near these timber sales, is below its own standards for supporting deer habitat and subsistence deer hunting. Bears are harmed by the density of logging roads and fragmentation of old-growth stands. Logging also harms streams that support salmon.

The future of mature and old-growth trees in Tongass National Forest

The Forest Service has proposed reinstating the roadless rule on the Tongass, but the rule would not protect millions of acres of old-growth trees outside roadless areas. The Forest Service also announced a commitment to end large-scale, old-growth logging throughout the forest. Following that announcement, President Biden issued an executive order directing the agency to conserve mature and old growth forests on all federal forestlands, including the Tongass. Despite this direction the Forest Service continues to offer old-growth sales in the Tongass.

Project status

The Forest Service finalized the Wrangell Island Project in 2017. Environmental groups objected to the decision. In 2022 the Forest Service issued the first timber sale, offering 2.6 million board feet of old growth. The Forest Service may offer more Wrangell Island sales that could total up to 7 million board feet of old-growth logging. Additional old-growth logging is also pending elsewhere on the Tongass.

Local contact: Meredith Trainor, executive director, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, meredith@seacc.org

The Worth More Standing report spotlights federal forest-management practices that are liquidating mature and old-growth forests and trees every day. It includes 10 examples that are part of a pervasive pattern of federal forest mismanagement that routinely sidesteps science to turn carbon-storing giants into lumber. Learn what actions you can take to protect Climate Forests across the country.