On September 25, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its plan to roll back the Roadless Rule in Alaska. Within its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), the USDA recommends the Tongass National Forest is fully exempted from the rule, opening more than nine million acres to logging and road-building in our country’s largest national forest.
The release of the FEIS is a near-final step to rewriting the Roadless Rule in Alaska. The recommendation comes after two years of pressure from President Trump to abolish the rule, and a quarter of a million comments to the USDA – 96 percent of which supported keeping roadless protections in Alaska’s Tongass intact.
There are two things you can do to protect the Tongass today:
- Write to your congresspeople and urge them to pass the Roadless Area Conservation Rule Act (H.R. 2491, S.1311) to make permanent the 20+ year, administratively designated Roadless Rule, and negate the effort to roll back the rule in Alaska.
- Submit a comment to the USDA by October 25, 2020 expressing your dissatisfaction with its recommendation for the fate of the Tongass National Forest.
What’s at stake in the Tongass?
The Tongass National Forest is fighting climate change. Its virgin old-growth stands and its sheer size make the it one of our best carbon sinks, storing about 8 percent of the carbon stored in all the forests of the lower 48 states combined.
The Tongass is a haven for outdoor recreation as well, offering Alaskans and visitors world class backcountry experiences and unmatched hunting and fishing opportunities. It is critical habitat for hundreds of animal species like salmon and wolves, and includes the largest numbers of black bear and bald eagles found in the United States. The forest is also a key driver of sustainable economies like outdoor recreation and commercial fishing. Its watersheds produce 80% of salmon in Southeast Alaska and a critical share of the West Coast commercial salmon fishery.
What is the Roadless Rule?
When the Wilderness Act of 1964 was created, our land management agencies were mandated to survey all public lands for their wilderness and other wild characteristics. Land without existing roads and suitable for wilderness or other protections was designated “Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) and set aside without a formal or permanent protection granted to them. In 1998, the USFS declared an 18-month moratorium on road building in national forests to take a closer look at these areas and make a recommendation, with input from the public, on what to do with them. The result was the Roadless Rule. Established under President Clinton on January 12, 2001 after one of the most expansive public involvement processes in the history of federal rule making, the Roadless Rule protected 58.5 million acres of Roadless areas within National Forests in 38 states from road-building, logging, and oil and gas leasing.
The Roadless Rule has been in political crosshairs ever since. On January 20, 2001, President George W. Bush took office and immediately put a halt on all rules and regulations established in the waning hours of the Clinton Administration. The Roadless Rule was one such rule. This catalyzed a series of events that spanned a decade and two Administrations to alter, reverse, and amend the rule. Eventually, both Idaho and Colorado received exemptions from the National Roadless Rule in favor of their own state specific rules. (Thanks to coordination amongst all stakeholders, these two rules are friendly towards conservation and recreation.)
Our Investment in Roadless Rule Defense
We have awarded three grants in 2020 from our Public Lands Defense Fund to groups working to defend the Roadless Rule. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is an Alaska-based grassroots organization using our funding to lead the coalition of local, regional and national groups working to defend the Tongass. The Wilderness Society is using our funding to raise awareness of the Roadless Rule nationally. We are also supporting Taxpayers for Common Sense, a non-partisan group focused on researching the inefficiencies and waste associated with the current road system to show lawmakers that expanding the forest service road system is a costly and fiscally irresponsible decision.