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Foreign Exploitation of America’s Largest Forest Is This Campaign Season’s Sleeper-issue

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service

In many political campaigns, there are the obvious issues candidates run on and then there are the so-called “sleeper” issues that can suddenly explode into the national debate and change the conversation entirely. In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt had to tell voting mothers and fathers, “your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars” because of the fear of outbreak of warfare in Europe again. His Republican opponent, Wendell Willkie, had identified neutrality as a potent issue, so much so that FDR was forced to respond.


In the 1960 campaign, John Kennedy discovered a “missile gap” was on the minds of many Americans, Fearful over the Soviet threat. JFK, the Democrat, actually got to Richard Nixon’s right on this issue, by accusing the Eisenhower Administration---and by extension vice president Nixon---of allowing the United States to fall dangerously behind the Soviets in the rocket and atomic weapons arena. As a result, Kennedy, in winning, was seen by many as more anti-communist than Nixon.

In 1976, Ronald Reagan found out---quite by accident---the potency of American opposition to the Panama Canal Treaties. The US government had control of the canal since the time of Teddy Roosevelt and schoolchildren grew up learning about the miracle of this “7th Wonder of the Modern World.” The Ford Administration, led by Henry Kissinger, was in secret negotiations to turn over control of the Canal Zone to the Panamanian dictatorship. Reagan caught wind of it and galvanized American opposition, thundering in speech after speech, “We built it! We paid for it! It’s ours! And we’re gonna keep it!” Reagan rode the issue hard and, as a result, almost beat Ford for the 1976 GOP nomination.  Then, for the first two years of the Carter Administration, Reagan was the leading opponent of the treaties and while Carter successfully convinced two thirds of the Senate to approve the treaties, the real political winner was Reagan, who used this issue (in part) to propel him into the White House in 1980.

In 2020, we know the top issues of concern to most Americans: jobs and the economy, Covid, healthcare and immigration. But there is a sleeper issue that could prove to make the difference on the ballot for many Republicans running this November ---a foreign government’s pillaging of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest – the largest and most important American forest and one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world.  


Recent polling shows that this issue is so important to voters, especially in battleground states, because of who benefits from lifting protections on the forest. Trees cut down in the Tongass aren’t headed for U.S. consumers, but rather to Beijing and other parts of Communist China. If the Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass are lifted, 10 million more acres of ancient and irreplaceable old-growth forest will be open to exploitation by the Chinese Government. 

Over the last decade or so, China has emerged as the largest importer of raw log exports from the logging industry within the Tongass National Forest. The USDA’s 2016 “Tongass National Forest Demand: Projections for 2015 to 2030” states that “softwood log exports [from southeast Alaska] to China have risen dramatically in recent years.” The USDA’s report details that the majority of southeast Alaska logs that are cut is exported “to the Pacific Rim (China, Japan, South Korea) and that “China is by far the largest single purchaser.” The USDA’s projections report also includes within that the share of logs cut from the Tongass and exported to China was “over 90% in both 2005 and 2011.”  

Additionally, A 2015 census conducted by The University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, found that “nearly all 2015 Alaskan log exports were sent to Pacific Rim countries in Northeast Asia, with China receiving approximately 76 percent of the volume leaving the Anchorage Customs District. And when China imports these logs, they profit, while American taxpayers lose, as does the profitable Tongass-related tourism industry in Southeast Alaska. 


To add insult to injury, American taxpayers are subsidizing logging in the Tongass to the tune of $30 million a year. Yes, you heard that right. American taxpayers are funding the destruction and export of our natural heritage to Communist China.

The U.S. government’s subsidization of logging in the Tongass is a lose-lose situation every single year. In fact, in the past two decades, Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates that taxpayers have lost close to $600 million to prop up logging in the Tongass. The thriving tourism industry within the Tongass, including recreational sports such as hunting, fishing, and hiking, on average generates just under a billion dollars annually, but is now in severe danger.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists pour into the Tongass and the surrounding area each year. The Tongass additionally employs over 10,000 local Alaska residents, providing seasonal and year-round jobs that bolster and secure Alaska’s economy on a year-round basis. Eliminating the Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass will irrefutably eliminate American jobs and scare away the ample game that so entices the millions of hunters and fishers that return each year to the Tongass. 

But the maintenance of the Roadless Rule protections isn’t just about stopping a foreign power from exploiting our lands, ; it’s also about protection of our American prowess—specifically, preservation of our old-growth, antique forests in the picturesque state of Alaska that stand to be threatened by destructive clearcutting all to benefit China.


Republican candidates looking to shore up support from voters across the political spectrum, while appealing to their conservative base, should put this issue front and center. More and more Republican leaders have recently pushed for conservative conservationist practices, seen in the proliferation of the American Conservation Coalition, backed by Senator Cory Gardner, as well as the Trump administration’s recent signing of the Great American Outdoors Act. 

Over the past year, three separate survey firms have conducted polling on the issue of maintaining the Roadless Rule. In Alaska, former Trump polling firm Baselice & Associates found that Republican hunters and fishers overwhelmingly support maintaining the Roadless Rule. Nationally, The Winston Group, another GOP firm, found the same support and when informed of China’s interference, Republican support for keeping China out and keeping American profit in grew exponentially. In the key battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, former 2016 Trump campaign pollster Robert Cahaly summed up that if President Trump in his race for re-election were to support lifting the Roadless Rule protections at the economic benefit of China, it could “actually move the President well out of competitive range in each state.”  

The commercials and speeches practically write themselves. GOP candidates can oppose Communist China, stop the wasteful spending of taxpayers’ dollar and promote an environmentally friendly message to all their voters, all at the same time.


There is absolutely no downside in advocating for the Tongass National Forest, and if you’re running for re-election, or hoping to break through for the first time, standing up to foreign exploitation of our lands might be a good way to do it. 

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