The (President Trump) administration’s effort to open the Tongass, the nation’s largest national forest, has been in the works for about two years, and the final steps to complete the process have been widely expected for months. They come after years of prodding by successive Alaska governors and congressional delegations, which have pushed the federal government to exempt the Tongass from a Clinton-era policy known as the roadless rule, which banned logging and road construction in much of the national forest system.
The United States Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture, is scheduled on Friday to publish an environmental study concluding that lifting the roadless rule protections in the Tongass would not significantly harm the environment. That study will allow the agency to formally lift the rule in the Tongass within the next 30 days, clearing the way for the Trump administration to propose timber sales and road construction projects in the forest as soon as the end of this year.
In a 2019 draft of the study, the Forest Service said it would consider six possible changes to the rule. One option would have maintained restrictions in 80 percent of the area currently protected by the rule; another would have opened up about 2.3 million acres to logging and construction. In a statement released Thursday night, the Department of Agriculture said that its “preferred alternative” is to “fully exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule,” which would open the 9 million acres to development.
Here’s some reaction, starting with Trout Unlimited:
JUNEAU, AK — A final environmental impact statement released today indicates the Forest Service plans to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule despite overwhelming public comment in support of the rule and its long-standing protections for fish and wildlife.
If finalized, the rule change would repeal conservation measures for more than 9 million acres of the forest, making currently protected lands available for expanded industrial clear-cut logging of old growth trees and construction of expensive and highly subsidized logging roads.
“This is the wrong call for the Tongass,” said Austin Williams, Alaska Director of Law and Policy for Trout Unlimited. “It’s clear the State of Alaska, the old-growth clear-cut logging industry, and others behind this short-sighted new rule want a return to the days of reckless clear-cut logging that sacrifices our fish, wildlife and forests without regard for the costs to Southeast Alaska’s fishing and tourism economy, subsistence users, recreationists, or the long-term health of the region. It’s far past time we recognize fish, wildlife, tourism, subsistence, and recreation are the most valuable uses for the Tongass.”
The Tongass produces more salmon than all other national forests combined, and the fishing and tourism industry supported by the intact forest 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.
Every single project (more than 80 in total) proposed in a roadless area in Alaska has 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.
“We should conserve our remaining roadless areas instead of rolling back the protections for fish and wildlife that make businesses like mine possible,” said Keegan McCarthy, owner of Coastal Alaska Adventures and Custom Alaska Cruises. “Our livelihoods and the future of our families depend on this forest. Sacrificing more of the Tongass to expanded and unsustainable clear-cut logging ignores the economic and social realities of today, and threatens to destroy thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses just like mine.”
A statewide 2019 poll commissioned by Trout Unlimited found a majority of likely voters in Alaska opposed efforts to repeal the Roadless Rule and strongly supported efforts to protect salmon, the salmon industry, and high-value salmon streams in the Tongass such as those included in the Tongass 77. 96 percent of all public comments submitted to the Forest Service supported keeping the Roadless Rule.
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 www.americansalmonforest.org
And a statement by SalmonState:
JUNEAU, AK—SalmonState condemns the U.S. Forest Service’s announcement today, in a press release, that it will open more than 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest to taxpayer-subsidized old-growth logging and industrial development. The Forest Service said it is forging ahead with a full exemption to the Roadless Rule, something Alaska’s Congressional Delegation and governor have pressed for despite overwhelming testimony from Alaskans asking for protections to remain in place. The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the decision will be released tomorrow, September 25, with a Record of Decision coming as early as October 26.
The decision continues several years of ignoring Tribes, Southeast Alaskans and Americans who have commented on this issue. It also endangers food security and salmon runs; threatens $2 billion, on average, in economic benefit from fisheries and tourism in the Inside Passage; threatens traditional ways of life; and paves the way to eradicating one of America’s greatest resources in the fight against climate change.
“The largest intact temperate rainforest left in the world, the millions of salmon, 650 million tons of carbon storage, and the people, businesses and jobs that depend on an intact Tongass National Forest are too important to throw away for a politically-motivated industry handout,” said SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol. “This reprehensible move disregards years of collaborative work in favor of money-losing taxpayer giveaways to an industry that was shutting down before the Roadless Rule went into place.”
Ninety-five percent of public testimony in Fall 2019 was in favor of keeping protections in place, as was 90-plus percent of in-person subsistence testimony in rural Southeast Alaska communities. Eleven Southeast Alaska Tribes have also petitioned for a new, more responsible approach in the Tongass, saying that the U.S. Forest Service has for years ignored their input as sovereign Tribal governments and cooperating agencies.
“It’s clear that the decision-making process for America’s largest national forest is broken. We need a new approach that actually heeds Tribes and Southeast Alaskan stakeholders,” Bristol said. “This move represents a focus on the past, not the future; is deeply disappointing; is wildly unpopular; and is likely to be overturned in the courts.”
Update, with more reaction, this time from the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Project:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today the U.S. Forest Service moved one step closer to eliminating conservation safeguards in the Tongass National Forest, despite strong objections from many Alaskans and sportsmen and sportswomen across the nation.
For two decades, the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule has successfully conserved vital wildlife habitat in undeveloped swaths of the Tongass, the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Yet today’s release of a Final Environmental Impact Statement that includes a proposal to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule indicates that the Trump Administration will soon reverse that conservation legacy and put these public lands and habitats at risk.
“Hunters and anglers support a lasting solution for the Tongass. Today’s final proposal is not a reasonable long term plan,” said?Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Local communities depend on balanced uses of these public resources. The decision to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule will only lead to more contention and uncertainty over the future of these lands.”
The Forest Service issued its proposed plan for the Tongass last fall, after the White House instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to roll back a 19-year-old management plan that safeguards habitat for important fish and wildlife species. That directive closely followed an off-the-record meeting between President Trump and Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy. These actions effectively foreclosed any opportunity for a compromise solution and forced a majority of stakeholders—locally and nationally—to oppose the agency’s proposal.
The Tongass National Forest encompasses nearly 90 percent of the southeastern panhandle of Alaska. Some of the state’s most productive watersheds for salmon rearing and fishing are located within roadless areas of the forest. Eliminating the Roadless Rule in the Tongass will open 9.2 million acres of undeveloped forests to development, potentially undermining the region’s world-class fisheries and impacting vital habitat for Sitka black-tailed deer, black and brown bears, moose, and even Roosevelt elk. These fish and wildlife resources are an important food source for thousands of local families, hold significant cultural value, and provide outstanding opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing that fuel Southeast Alaska’s vibrant tourism industry.
“Eliminating conservation safeguards for millions of acres of productive salmon and Sitka black-tailed deer habitat does not reflect the values of Alaskans and it disregards feedback from nearly a quarter-million Americans who took time to participate in this process,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska Field Representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Unilateral actions like this rarely stand the test of time; nor should they. The TRCP remains committed to working with our hunting and fishing partners, local communities, business leaders, and decision makers to help establish a durable solution for the Tongass that conserves our public lands and supports sustainable economic growth.”
The Forest Service is expected to issue its final decision as early as October.
Founded in 2002, the TRCP is the largest coalition of conservation organizations in the country, uniting and amplifying the voices of sportsmen and women by convening hunting and fishing groups, conservation organizations, and outdoor businesses to a common purpose.
And from the Citizens of the Republic, a conservative organization that has been vocal in its pleas to protect Tongass:
Alexandria, VA– Citizens for the Republic (CFTR), a political action committee founded by Ronald Reagan, responded today to the United States Forest Services’ final Environmental Impact Study, and the USFS’s forthcoming approval of eliminating Roadless Rule protections that safeguard key areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from corporate logging and wide-scale destruction. Over the past year, CFTR has been vocal in their disapproval of the proposal to remove protections for America’s largest federally protected forest and has gained the public support of many key conservative figures.
In response, CFTR stated: “We are extremely disheartened with this final EIS. It paves the way for a decision that will inflict irrevocable damage on a pristine and large portion of our country’s wilderness. Despite our national campaign to emphasize the overwhelming conservative support for maintaining the Roadless Rule, no one within the respective offices took our concerns into consideration. We feel this decision was not representative of the millions of Americans, including key conservative leaders, who also wanted to maintain the Tongass.” In a letter sent in September, CFTR requested a meeting with the chief of the United States Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen, ahead of the USFS and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final decision on the maintenance of the ‘Roadless Rule’. They received no response from anyone within the USFS or the USDA.
CFTR wrote in the letter to the USFS that they continue to “represent the voices of many, many prominent conservative leaders across the country.” Leading up to this decision, CFTR’s campaign to emphasize the prominent conservative support for preserving the Roadless Rule gained national coverage from The Washington Times, Roll Call, The Washington Examiner, Bloomberg, Daily Caller, Townhall, The American Conservative, and E &E News, to name just a few of many. CFTR initially wrote a similar letter to President Trump expressing their disapproval of the removal of the Roadless Rule protections, as it would primarily serve to benefit the economy of China. The letter was signed by notable conservative figures such as Ed Rollins and former Gov. Mike Huckabee.
And one more from Washington Wild:
WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today, the U.S. Forest Service released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) advancing its extreme proposal to eliminate the Roadless Rule in the Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which would open vast swaths of irreplaceable old-growth temperate rainforest to clearcut logging. Despite the ongoing and overwhelming COVID-19 crisis, the agency has not slowed its push to allow a new wave of logging. These roadless areas have provided protection for ancient forests, clean water, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities for nearly two decades.
The dramatic policy shift targets the Roadless Rule, a federal safeguard that restricts logging and road-building in designated wild areas. For two decades, the rule has protected old-growth forests and critical wildlife habitat in Alaska and across the country. Protecting these trees, which are champions at absorbing carbon, has helped make the Tongass a buffer against climate change. The release of the FEIS is a near-final step in the rulemaking process.
“The Trump Administration is moving toward a decision on its extreme plan to roll back protections for ancient forests, clean water and wildlife habitat that have been in place for two decades,” said Tom Uniack, Executive Director of Washington Wild. “Alaska’s old-growth forests are ground zero for what is almost certainly just the first attack on old growth forests and roadless areas around the west. Washington’s roadless forests could be next.”
The final environmental assessment and draft decision document supports the most extreme of six options (full elimination of roadless areas protections) in direct contrast to the comments the agency received. The Forest Service received a quarter of a million comments in response to its proposal to gut the rule, and 96 percent of those comments deemed unique by the Forest Service voiced support for keeping roadless protections intact.
“Overturning protections for the Earth’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforest will be one of the most enduring legacies of the Trump Administration’s environmental corruption,” said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). “Local Alaskans, Native Tribes, and Washingtonians understand that protecting Southeast Alaska’s $2 billion commercial fishing and tourism economy is a much bigger and more sustainable way to benefit from our natural inheritance. This blatant overreach ignores the science and the will of the people and underscores the need to permanently protect our nation’s last remaining wild forests by codifying the Roadless Rule.”
On November 21, 2019 Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and more than 30 conservation, recreation and wildlife groups as well as elected officials, hunters, anglers, local businesses and faith leaders spoke out against the proposal at a community public meeting in response to the proposal. No official public meetings were scheduled by the Forest Service outside of Alaska or Washington D.C. The Tongass National Forest is federally owned and managed for all Americans.
There is a special connection between Washington State and southeast Alaska. The Tongass National Forest is the same distance from Washington State as Boise ID. On Alaska Airlines alone, there are 24 daily nonstop flights between Seattle and the southeast Alaska communities of Sitka, Ketchikan and Juneau. Additionally, five major cruise lines, offer 80 cruises departing from Seattle to the inside passage, the Tongass National Forest, and Glacier Bay National Park each summer. A significant number of commercial fishing permits held in Southeast and offshore waters in Alaska are held by fisherman with home ports in Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal or Westport.
Here in Washington State we have just over 2 million acres of roadless areas, including places like South Quinalt Ridge on the Olympic Peninsula, the Dark Divide in southwest Washington and the Kettle Range in the eastern part of the state. They are a critical part of the quality of life we have come to expect. Roadless forests provide much of our clean and safe drinking water, protect fish and wildlife, and provide amazing back country recreation experiences.
“The areas of our national forests without roads are often some of the best habitat for fish and wildlife,” said John McGlenn, President of Washington Wildlife Federation which represents hunters and anglers around the state. “These refuges are critical to ensuring that we are able to pass on this legacy to future generations.”
Washington’s roadless forests also provide popular recreational activities like hiking, climbing, paddling, hunting, fishing, camping, skiing, horseback riding and mountain biking that add to the unique quality of life we all enjoy here in the Washington State. These incredible landscapes also inspire homegrown companies like REI, Filson, and the many other local businesses that provide recreation gear and outdoor recreation opportunities.
“These wild places are the lifeblood of our local economy,” said Lance Reif, owner of Wildwater River Guides in Leavenworth, WA. “Roadless areas provide the reasons why so many of us choose to live work and play here in the Evergreen State.”
Over the last two years, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has already greenlighted two projects that allow new road building in inventoried roadless areas, the Olivine Mine and Excelsior Mine Expansions. Continuing to allow roadbuilding in roadless areas and allowing statewide exemptions sets a dangerous precedent for the future management of the Forest and in Roadless Areas. This puts clean water, backcountry recreation, ancient forests and wildlife habitat at risk.
In 2018, more than 30 Washington breweries, all members of the Washington Brewshed® Alliance, joined more than 150 conservation, recreation, wildlife and hunting and fishing organizations as well as faith leaders, local businesses and elected officials from Washington State in support of retaining existing protections for roadless areas.
“Roadless areas protect the headwaters and the source of clean quality water for fish, wildlife, residents, and better tasting beer,” said Jack Lamb, owner of Aslan Brewing in Bellingham and member of Washington Wild’s Brewshed® Alliance.