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.