Indigenous peoples have always known the Tongass is our lifeblood. New research confirms it.

As Tribal President of the Organized Village of Kake, I can tell you the Tongass National Forest has always been of paramount importance to our Keex Kwan people’s way of life. And now, new Western science shows that protecting our carbon-dense forest is key to helping the planet heal from climate change.

I recently participated in a virtual press conference that shared new western science about our Tongass homelands. Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist at Wild Heritage, released new data showing the alarming climate impact of logging in the Tongass — which holds 44% of all carbon stored by United States’ national forests — and confirmed the Tongass forest’s crucial role in helping the United States achieve its goals for reducing carbon in the earth’s atmosphere.

Tribes are in favor of protecting our nation’s largest carbon sink, the Tongass, not just because the planet’s climate depends on it, but because as Indigenous peoples of Alaska, our lives have forever been interwoven with this land that sustains us. Our food security depends on healthy forests, salmon streams and our traditional practices that put food on our tables and support our culture. Logging not only threatens those forests and streams, but also threatens our way of life.

Many Southeast Alaska tribal leaders support restoring Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass, which were dropped when the Trump administration opened 9.2 million acres of pristine old-growth forest to industrial logging and development. Opening the Tongass to road-building and logging is among the most damaging public lands actions by our federal government in the last four years. Because Tribes input in the rulemaking process was rejected, last July, 12 Indigenous Alaska tribes petitioned the federal government to protect the Tongass and to create a traditional homelands conservation rule for management of our ancestral lands.

Protection of the Tongass is not only integral to our way of life, it is also critical to meeting the world’s climate mitigation challenges. Last month, more than a hundred scientists, including Dr. DellaSala, signed a letter to President Joe Biden asking the U.S. to comply with Article 5 of the Paris Agreement by protecting the nation’s carbon dense forest ecosystems and for the Tongass National Forest to be the central part of the administration’s Nationally Determined Carbon Contribution commitment.

The Biden administration has an opportunity to make things right on the Tongass — by establishing trust and stability in the U.S. government’s relationship with Southeast Alaska tribes, restoring roadless protections in the forest, and by including the Tongass as part of its climate commitments. Our Keex Kwan people have always known the Tongass is our lifeblood, but now we have western science proof that the Tongass is important to our entire planet, too. We’re counting on the Biden administration to protect the Tongass for our planet and our people.

Joel Jackson is the tribal president of the Organized Village of Kake.

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