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Tongass Roadless Exemption

Case Overview

In 2009, a diverse coalition of Alaska Native, tourism industry, and environmental organizations challenged the Bush administration's 2003 rule "temporarily" exempting southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest—the nation's largest and wildest—from the landmark 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

Tongass roadless areas are needed to maintain healthy populations of wolves, bears, goshawks, deer, marten, and five species of Pacific salmon, among other species. These places are vital for the region's burgeoning tourism industry as well as commercial fishing, sport hunting and fishing, subsistence, and recreation. The American public has overwhelmingly supported including the Tongass in the Roadless Rule.

In March 2011, a federal district judge in Alaska ruled for the plaintiffs vacating the Tongass Exemption and reinstating the Roadless Rule’s application to the Tongass. The State of Alaska has appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and also launched a direct challenge to the Roadless Rule in the D.C. District Court.

The rationale for temporarily exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule was flawed when adopted and is even more anomalous today. The enormous cost of building roads into Tongass roadless areas greatly exceeds the value of the timber and requires unconscionable federal taxpayer subsidies. The Forest Service should stop building these wasteful roads and focus instead on restoring degraded watersheds and unmaintained roads resulting from decades of misguided forest policy.

Case Updates

July 29, 2015 | Feature

Saving the Forest for the Trees

Alaska's Tongass National Forest is home to centuries-old trees and rivers flowing among thousands of islands. It is also the last forest where the fight continues to keep timber sales out of roadless areas.

March 26, 2013 | Blog Post

It's Game Over for Foes of National Forests

Time has run out for the enemies of roadless wilderness. They spent 12 years trying to kill the national law protecting our forests, and yesterday a federal district court said they couldn’t have a minute more—the statute of limitations had run out.

October 25, 2012 | Blog Post

Conservationists Act to Protect Sensitive Bay and Crab Fishery in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is as much ocean as land. It includes saltwater bays, fjords, canals, channels, and too many islands to count.

At this intersection of land and ocean, life flourishes where forest creeks and streams empty nutrients into shallow saltwater bays. Among other species, dungeness crabs flourish, fed seasonally by the carcasses of spawned out salmon.

One such estuary 20 miles south of Petersburg in Alexander Bay is a place called the Pothole. It’s named for the crab pots used by the commercial crab fishery that thrives there.

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