Former Vice President Joe Biden’s nonprofit conservation group has plans to reverse a Trump administration policy that expanded the areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest open to development, The Hill reported Wednesday.
The Forest Service’s new policy, adopted this summer, has been met with criticism from critics who say the agency is “warring” with local residents in the reclusive area.
The International Center for Tropical Forestry, an independent nonprofit conservation group that is endorsed by Biden, will convene for a summit next week to brainstorm ways to stop the expansion and follow through on Biden’s dream of preserving the once-isolated area to “showcase Alaska’s natural beauty and natural potential,” The Hill reported.
It will also aim to reverse a devastating oil spill cleanup and wildlife protection plan published by the Obama administration earlier this year, according to the publication.
The current administration’s Tongass policy rolls back former President Barack Obama’s plan from 2011, which focused on managing the area to protect critical habitat for endangered species. It also allows for oil exploration in some areas that had previously been protected.
Scientists point to a range of environmental issues in the area, including the case of Dolly Varden, which is currently listed as endangered, The Hill reported. Toxins from the 2-foot-tall, twice-prickly eel species have contaminated rivers that feed the Alaska sea within the area, according to the publication.
The Interior Department had defended the new policy saying that it did not represent a reversal of the Obama administration’s stated goal of protecting the area’s wildlife or threatened species.
“As the science will show, the 2015 Tongass Flood plan provided enough flexibility to address two important management objectives: preserving salmon habitat and its watershed and protecting the ecosystem as a whole,” the Department of the Interior said in a statement issued in July.
However, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, which is organizing the conference, said the new policy would make it harder to advance conservation plans, according to The Hill.