Biden To Reinstate Roadless Rule Protection For Tongass NF

The Washington Post reports that President Joe Biden will restore Roadless Rule protections on Friday for a large chunk of the massive Southeast Alaska Tongass National Forest. Here are some details:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will propose reinstating a Bill Clinton-era rule to ban logging and road building in more than half of North America’s largest temperate rainforest,the department confirmed. The restrictions had managed to stay in place for years because of a series of court battles, but the Trump administration wiped them out last fall.

“Restoring the Tongass’ roadless protections supports the advancement of economic, ecologic and cultural sustainability in Southeast Alaska in a manner that is guided by local voices,” Vilsack said in a statement, adding that the rule reflects the input of Alaska’s tribal and community leaders “and builds on the region’s economic drivers of tourism and fishing.”

The proposed rule would protect critical habitat and prevent the carbon dioxide trapped in the forest’s ancient trees from escaping into the atmosphere, but Alaska’s governor and congressional delegation say it would hurt the timber industry. Alaska Native leaders, environmentalists and tour operators argue that protecting the region’s remaining wild landscapes will sustain the state’s economy in the long term.

In the summer, news broke that the president was planning to restore the protections to the Tongass after the previous administration reversed the Roadless Rule regulations and open the door for logging interests from bigger operations.

Here’s reaction, starting with a statement from SalmonState:

SalmonState praises Biden Administration for prioritizing sustainable uses of the Tongass National Forest by reinstating Roadless protections

JUNEAU, AK — Tonight, SalmonState commends the Biden Administration for its decision to reinstate protections for road-free areas of the America’s largest and wildest national forest. The Roadless Area Conservation rule, in place for two decades, was rolled back by the Trump Administration. That move proved wildly unpopular within the region and across the nation. 

“Tonight’s decision is a giant step towards bringing balance and common sense back to Tongass management,” said SalmonState Communications Director Mary Catharine Martin.  “Reinstating roadless protections to the Tongass and initiating the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA)’s Southeast Alaska Sustainability Strategy back in July illustrates that the Forest Service is once again focused on the future, not the past.” 

“Southeast Alaskans have been speaking loudly and clearly on this topic and it’s incredibly heartening to see the Biden Administration not only listening to us, but working to ensure the Tongass stays the rich, productive, place it is,” said Martin. “1.8 million people came to visit the Tongass in 2019, and none of them came to see fields of stumps.” 

In addition to being a world class destination for visitors, 25% of the West Coast’s commercially-caught salmon comes from the Tongass. Its towering spruce, hemlock and cedar trees, some of them 1,000 years old, store 44% of the carbon in all America’s national forests. 

“The Biden Administration’s wise decision gets the Tongass and Southeast Alaska back on the right track and shows their commitment to protecting our jobs, the region’s rich and unique culture, its wildly productive forests and waters and our cherished way of life,” Martin said.

SalmonState works to ensure Alaska remains a place wild salmon and the people who depend on them thrive.