The Alaska Congressional delegation today introduced legislation to exempt the Tongass and Chugach National Forests in Alaska from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The Roadless Rule currently protects 9.3 million acres in the Tongass and 5.6 million acres in the Chugach from logging and new roads, while providing flexibility for needed economic development in rural communities of the region.
The Tongass and Chugach comprise a vast temperate rainforest spanning hundreds of miles of the Alaska coast. They are home to centuries-old trees providing critical habitat for wolves, grizzly bears, wild salmon, bald eagles, and other wildlife. These forests provide sustainable long-term jobs in thriving fishing and tourism industries—both threatened by industrial-scale logging and road building.
Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) introduced the Senate bill, with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) as a co-sponsor. Representative Don Young introduced a House version.
“Nowhere is the Roadless Rule more important than in Alaska,” said Tom Waldo, attorney for Earthjustice. “The Tongass and Chugach contain some of the most substantial, intact expanses of temperate rainforest in the world. Congress must reject this attack on our national treasures.”
Commercial fishing and tourism are by far the largest private employers in the Tongass and Chugach. Protecting these Roadless areas in Alaska not only helps these industries, it also makes fiscal sense.
The Tongass timber program has lost nearly a billion dollars in the last three decades, much of that from building roads in remote Roadless areas for the benefit of just a few timber companies. The Forest Service has determined that there is sufficient timber on the existing road system, unaffected by the Roadless Rule, to continue logging at current levels indefinitely.
“This is a bad bill and a bad deal,” added Waldo. “It harms places cherished by the American people for salmon, bears, and other wildlife, it threatens job-creating industries like fishing and tourism, and taxpayers have to foot the bill for it.”
2001 National Forest Roadless Rule Background:
On January 12, 2001, the Secretary of Agriculture—who oversees the Forest Service—adopted the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The rule generally prohibits roads and logging in undeveloped areas of 5,000 acres or greater (known as “Roadless” areas) in the National Forests, but allows for development of hard-rock mineral resources, hydroelectric facilities, and new state highways, among other uses. The rule went through a complete and exhaustive public process, receiving more than 1.6 million comments from members of the public, overwhelmingly in support of the rule.
With over half of America’s 192 million acres of national forests and grasslands already developed, the 2001 Roadless Rule protects nearly 50 million acres of the remaining wild, backcountry areas. These places provide drinking water for more than 60 million people, vital fish and wildlife habitat, and popular recreation areas in 37 states and Puerto Rico.
The Roadless Rule is backed by strong science but has been the target of numerous legal challenges from the timber industry and aligned interests.