The Largest Temperate Rainforest on Earth, Alaska’s Tongass, Cannot be Sacrificed
PUBLISHED: THE HILL: Changing America by Cyril Christo, Opinion Contributor October 27, 2020
“Nothing dollarable is safe.” —John Muir
It seems like generations ago, that moisture laden evergreen land of fjords, tidewater glaciers, ravens, bears, bald eagles, whales, salmon and 11,000 miles of shoreline, the “Amazon of America,” the Tongass of southeastern Alaska. So splendid and luxuriant beyond description, like an emerald mirage, that it enticed Theodore Roosevelt to put aside 17 million acres as protected area at the beginning of the 20th century. It is one thing for the dominant society to see trees, it is quite another to see the forests for the Sitka spruces and the Western hemlocks and the native perspective, which is about consciousness that acknowledges a spiritual similarity between humans and other beings, not just salmon and bears, but even trees. The beings which bond heaven and earth as the first peoples understand all trees. And each tree has its own character, its own identity. The bears who eat the salmon nourish the forests in a feedback loop that is incomparable.
Irene Dundas, Ka Klaa Tlaa, which translates as the Mother Tree of the Tsaqweidi killer Whale Clan Tlingit tribe of the Cedar House of Kake, Alaska says of one specific tree, “That same tree that I used to gaze at, my grandmother’s grandmother used to tell her that this was where the clan women used to birth their children at, hundreds of years ago. For some reason the Tsaaqweidi women used to birth their children under this tree. Later, I understood why there were land otters there. In Tlingot, land otters are spiritual animals so this place was sacred. Otters were guarding this place for the ancestors.”
Just a few weeks ago, the Trump administration decided to renege on the Clinton era policy called the Roadless Rule from 2001, which would have kept most of the remaining Tongass from clearcutting and road construction, which also affects 60 million acres in 39 states.
Some 95 percent of Alaskans support the preservation of this vital ruling. Clinton, in the last days of his administration, wanted to save the Tongass in perpetuity, one of the most singular gems in North America, and the current president in the potentially final days of his tenure, wants to give the lumber industry the green light to the flaying of a piece of the Earth unlike any other in America. How can two so radically different ideas about life on earth co- exist? One has to give. One supports life, the other desecrates it at every turn.
Photo credit: Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson