President Trump and his administration have a timely and important opportunity to retaliate against the Chinese government for its deception and handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the U.S. economy. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is on the verge of determining whether public lands are managed for the benefit of Americans or for Chinese economic interests.
Thousands of miles away from Washington, D.C., nestled in the trees of the largest federally managed forest in America lies a hidden weapon against China: the maintenance of the Roadless Rule protections. The Roadless Rule, instituted in 2001, protects almost 10 million acres of the Tongass National Forest, spanning across the coasts of Southeast Alaska. But a little-known fact is that if these protections are lifted in the coming months, China’s economy will be the only benefactor. The USFS is currently finalizing a proposal to expand logging in the Tongass by eliminating decades-long protections under the Roadless Rule.
China is the largest consumer of Tongass raw log exports, and drives the market demands for the production in Southeast Alaska. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the Forest Service, issued a report in 2016, “Tongass National Forest Demand: Projections for 2015 to 2030,” which states that “the majority of southeast Alaska logs were sent to the Pacific Rim” region, (China, Japan and Korea), and that “the share of logs sent there was over 90% in both 2005 and 2011.” For Tongass logs, the USDA reports that “China is by far the largest single purchaser,” with an additional April 2020 USFS analysis indicating that “Alaska timber market conditions are driven by log exports to China.”
Chinese consumption of Tongass timber drives the market demand of an industry that does nothing to bolster the U.S. economy. In fact, Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) found in 2019 that U.S. taxpayers subsidize logging in the Tongass to the tune of $30 million a year. According to TCS, our government has wastedmore than $600 million of taxpayer dollars on subsidization of the Tongass in the past 20 years. When you break it down at the simplest level, American taxpayers are paying for the economic benefits of China — and they aren’t happy about it. And the Forest Service proposal to drop roadless area protections on the Tongass will only exacerbate the problem.
A June 2020 national poll conducted by Washington, D.C.-based polling firm The Winston Group surveyed 1,000 registered voters on the issue of lifting the Roadless Rule protections and the implications associated with the proposal. The Winston Group discovered that the large plurality of American voters (41%) support maintaining the Roadless Rule protections upon learning that “the proposal would open these lands to commercial logging by the timber industry, which is heavily subsidized by the American taxpayer, and whose biggest customer is China.”
Those surveyed who voiced support for exempting the Tongass National Forest from the protections of the Roadless Rule regardless of China’s involvement and economic profit formed a much smaller minority, at just 25%. Decisively, 65% more American voters see further trade involvement through expanded logging on the Tongass to benefit China as a threat to our nation.
This is the time to act — to take preventative measures to ensure that China cannot further destroy the old growth forests and world-class salmon habitat of the Tongass, which when protected generates incredible revenue for the state of Alaska. The Alaska fishing industry yields on average $986 million annually, with 28% of commercial salmon harvested from the waters of rivers within the Tongass. Recreational sports, such as hunting and fishing, on top of the thriving tourism industry within the Tongass, also contribute to Alaska’s economy, employing over 10,000 Alaska residents a year.
The China-originated coronavirus has already done irreparable damage to our once prosperous nation. American voters agree that we cannot continue to allow China to ravage our markets, nor our land — and so should our government. President Trump can get it right here by upholding these important protections for our forest, and for our economy.
• Ed Rollins, longtime Republican campaign consultant and adviser, was the National Campaign Director for the successful Reagan-Bush 1984 campaign and is currently the chairman of the pro–Donald Trump Great America PAC.