Forest Service Set To Repeal Roadless Rule For Protecting Tongass NF (Updated)

Here’s some reaction to the pending repeal of protection for the Tongass from Trout Unlimited:

JUNEAU, AK— An announcement expected tomorrow by the U.S. Forest Service says the agency will repeal the Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest, opening previously-protected lands containing rare, old-growth trees to industrial clear-cut logging and construction of expensive and highly-subsidized logging roads. Removing the Roadless Rule from the Tongass is the most extreme of six alternatives considered by the Forest Service. 

The move comes despite overwhelming public comment in support of the rule (see page 2) and its long-standing protections for fish and wildlife on more than 9 million acres of the Tongass.
“Make no mistake, this decision is all about opening up old-growth forest to clear-cut logging in an effort to prop up an outdated and highly-subsidized logging industry,” said Austin Williams, Alaska Director of Law and Policy for Trout Unlimited. “Renewable energy, community infrastructure, mining, and transportation projects would have proceeded under any of the six alternatives considered. This decision only makes sense if your primary goal is to clear cut more old-growth forest.”  
The Forest Service reports every single project proposed in a roadless area in Alaska had been granted an exemption and allowed to move forward, typically within a matter of weeks. These projects include mining projects, energy and utility projects, transportation roads, and community infrastructure development. (see page 6).  

In public meetings on the proposed repeal last fall, southeast Alaskans overwhelmingly testified in opposition to the repeal. Nearly all the testimony reiterated the importance of the rule’s benefits to local fisheries and related jobs.  

“Communities, fish, wildlife, tourism, subsistence, and recreation have thrived in the Tongass with the Roadless Rule in place, and it’s a disgrace to see logging special interests win out over the wishes of Alaskans and the long-term health of the region,” said Williams. “Fish, wildlife, and recreation are the future for southeast, not some half-baked plan to give away and cut down the best remaining stands of old-growth forest.”
The Tongass produces more salmon than all other national forests combined, and supports fishing and tourism industries that account for more than 26 percent of local jobs in the region. Science shows clear-cut logging pollutes streams, and harms salmon and deer populations. More than 30% of all instances where Tongass roads cross fish streams (1,120 crossings in total) fail to meet state or federal standards for fish migration, impeding salmon and trout from nearly 250 miles of important spawning and rearing habitat. 

 The record of decision will be noticed in the federal register Thursday.

 Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization. In Alaska, we work with sportsmen and women to ensure the state’s trout and salmon resources remain healthy far into the future through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau. Learn more about our work to conserve key areas of the Tongass National Forest at 

Update: Here’s SalmonState with some commentary:

JUNEAU, AK— The U.S. Forest Service today announced that its politically-driven plan to open 9.3 million currently protected acres of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska to industrial development, including clearcut logging of temperate rainforest old growth, will become official tomorrow, October 29, when the Record of Decision will be published in the Federal Register. 

“It’s clear that this decision is what the Forest Service essentially admitted it to be in its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) — a politically mandated choice that ignores Southeast Alaskans, fishermen, Tribes, hunters, businesses, subsistence users and the vast majority of public comment in Alaska and across the nation,” said SalmonState executive director Tim Bristol. “This decision is an ill-fated attempt to create a past that collapsed on itself, and ignores the actual, articulated needs of Alaskans, as well as the innovative leadership we need to be able to adapt to the challenges climate change presents.”

96 percent of comments, overall, and 90+ percent of local, in-person subsistence testimony was in favor of maintaining protections for the Tongass. In addition, every single Tribe has resigned as a cooperating agency in protest over the way their valuable input has been ignored in this process. In a letter renouncing their status as cooperating agencies to the Forest Service Oct. 13, five Tribes wrote that “our participation in this process has not actually led to the incorporation of any of our concerns in the final decision. We refuse to endow legitimacy upon a process that has disregarded our input at every turn.”

In the FEIS, the Forest Service stated “Development of federal policy is often inherently political. In this case, USDA gave substantial weight to the State’s policy preferences.” 

At 17 million acres, the Tongass, which comprises most of Southeast Alaska, is America’s largest national forest. It’s also the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world, stores 650 million tons of carbon and is vital to keep intact as the planet’s climate changes, is the birthplace of 25 percent of the West Coast’s salmon catch, is a place more than a million people come from around the world to see each year, on average, and on average generates more than $2 billion for Southeast Alaska’s economy through fisheries and tourism.

“Engaging in this process has been a huge waste of Alaskans’ time and energy, and the final product is sure to be thrown out in court,” Bristol said. “It’s time for a process that actually listens to the people the Forest Service, and Alaska’s politicians, claim to want to hear from.”

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

Here’s more social media reaction: