This fall, Mr. Biden plans to attend a United Nations conference of world leaders in Scotland to argue that after four years in which the American president mocked climate science, the United States is a leader in the fight against global warming.
Environmentalists said the move to fully restore protections to the Tongass could be one step in making that case.
“This is the Biden administration putting itself squarely on the road to re-claiming climate leadership, as it heads to the Glasgow summit this fall,” said Niel Lawrence, Alaska director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group.
The forest plays an important role in protecting the climate. Scientists point out that the Tongass offers an important service to the billions of people across the planet who are unlikely to ever set foot there: It is one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, storing the equivalent of about 8 percent of the carbon stored in all the forests of the lower 48 states combined.
The vast wilderness, in southeastern Alaska, is home to more than 400 species of wildlife, fish and shellfish, including nesting bald eagles, moose and the world’s greatest concentration of black bears. Tucked between its snowy peaks, fjords and rushing rivers are stands of red and yellow cedar and Western hemlock as well as Sitka spruce trees that are at least 800 years old.
Republicans and Democrats have fought over the Tongass for 20 years. The forest was heavily logged in the 1960s and the 1970s, but in 2001 President Bill Clinton enacted the “roadless rule” that blocked road construction necessary for logging and mining in much of the forest.