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January 25, 2023

U.S. Forest Service restores critical protections to Tongass National Forest

The National Roadless Rule was rolled back for America’s last great rainforest by the Trump administration, threatening millions of acres of undeveloped national forest lands

Contacts

President Joel Jackson, Organized Village of Kake, (907) 723-1518, president@kake-nsn.gov

Vice President Gloria Burns, Ketchikan Indian Community Tribal Council, (907) 617-5901, gburns@council.kictribe.org

Linda Behnken, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, (907) 747-3400, alfafishak@gmail.com

Meredith Trainor, SEACC, (907) 586-6942 ext. 209, or (907) 957-8347, meredith@seacc.org

Maranda Hamme, SEACC, (907) 586-6942 ext. 209, or (907) 401-1852, maranda@seacc.org

Naawéiyaa Tagaban, Native Movement, (907) 328-0582, naaweiyaa@nativemovement.org

Aileo Weinmann, Alaska Wilderness League, (202) 538-5038, aileo@alaskawild.org

Ellen Montgomery, Environment America, (720) 583-4024, emontgomery@environmentamerica.org

Katherine Quaid, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN), katherine@wecaninternational.org

Wanda Culp, Tongass Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (TWECAN), wandaculp@yahoo.com

Dominick A. DellaSala, Wild Heritage, dominick@wild-heritage.org

Brittany Miller, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0746, bmiller@foe.org

Medhini Kumar, Sierra Club, medhini.kumar@sierraclub.org

Anne Hawke, NRDC, (646) 823-4518, ahawke@nrdc.org

Jen Parravani, The Wilderness Society, jen_parravani@tws.org

Ted Zukoski, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 641-3149, tzukoski@biologicaldiversity.org

Jackson Chiappinelli, Earthjustice, (585) 402-2005, jchiappinelli@earthjustice.org

Juneau (Áakʼw Ḵwáan Territory)

In a win for Southeast Alaska communities, wildlife, and the climate, the U.S. Forest Service reinstated Roadless Rule protections across the Tongass rainforest in Southeast Alaska. Tribal leaders, recreational small-business owners, commercial fishing operators, and conservationists cheered the agency’s restoration of this critical safeguard. The move restores federal protection — from industrial logging and damaging road-building — to just over 9 million undeveloped acres in America’s largest national forest.

The 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest, situated in the southeast corner of Alaska, is a temperate rainforest that draws visitors from around the globe and provides habitat for an abundance of wildlife including grizzly bears, bald eagles, and wolves. It is the ancestral homeland of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples. The Tongass also serves as the country’s largest forest carbon sink, making its protection critical for U.S. efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to set a global example.

The following statements were issued in response to today’s news.

President Joel Jackson, Organized Village of Kake:
“The Tongass Roadless Rule is important to everyone. The old-growth timber is a carbon sink, one of the best in the world. It’s important to OUR WAY OF LIFE — the streams, salmon, deer, and all the forest animals and plants.”

Gloria Burns, Vice President with the Ketchikan Indian Community Tribal Council:
“The Tongass National forest has provided for the people of this land since time immemorial and in many ways, the forest is the lungs of the world. The reinstatement of the Roadless Rule is an important step. I come from a family of weavers and we rely culturally, spiritually, and economically on a thriving and healthy old growth forest. As a Tribe we agreed to join litigation around the Roadless Rule because the federal government did not consult with Tribes regarding the issue and we have concerns as we belong to and rely on the land to sustain our families and culture. We will be here in this place until the end of time and our cultures depend on and revolve around our natural world.”

Naawéiyaa Tagaban, Environmental Justice Strategy Lead, Native Movement:
“The restoration of National Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass National Forest is a great first step in honoring the voices of the many Tribal Governments and Tribal Citizens who spoke out in favor of Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass. We are grateful to the Biden administration for taking this first step toward long-term protections for the Tongass. We hope that going forward true long-term protections will be established that do not rely on a rule which can be changed at the whim of a presidential administration. The administration must look to Tribal Sovereignty and Indigenous stewardship as the true long-term solution for protections in the Tongass. Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people have lived in and managed the Tongass national forest for generations, true protections will look like the restoration of lands into Indigenous ownership.”

Wanda Culp, Tongass coordinator, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network:
“The Tongass Forest is homeland to countless indigenous family species, intertwined as strong and delicate as a spider's circular web. The Tongass National Forest in Alaska is a national treasure, stored wealth, as is each of America's Public Forests. They should always be handled as the treasures they are — cherished and saved to enable our future generations to breathe fresh air. To BREATHE FREELY!”

Linda Behnken, commercial fisherman and executive director, Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association:
“We are thrilled and relieved to know the Tongass' remaining unroaded areas will remain intact vibrant forests for generations to come. Our fisheries depend on healthy habitat, and with climate change driving ocean warming, protecting habitat is increasingly important to the fish, the fisheries, and the coastal fishing communities. This is welcome news!”

Captain Dan Blanchard, owner and CEO, Uncruise Adventures:
“As an Alaska small business owner, I am ecstatic that the Forest Service is fully reinstating the Roadless Rule in the Tongass National Forest. It is time for us to focus on recreational opportunities for locals and visitors alike. The visitor industry is huge to the SE Alaska economy. Visitors travel from every corner of the planet to explore the rare environment and wildlife that is the Tongass National Forest. Happy Day!”

Mike and Sally Trotter, owners, Baranof Wilderness Lodge:
"GO JOE! Thank you so much for your support, stewardship, and care for this precious and wonderful planet earth! We honor your path.”

Above & Beyond Alaska:
“As a company that has been operating wilderness trips in the Tongass National Forest for over 20 years, we are overjoyed that the Roadless Rule will be restored to help protect this national treasure and to ensure healthy ecosystems continue to thrive in Southeast Alaska.”

Kevin Murphy, owner, Murphy's Maritime Services:
“As a business owner in Southeast Alaska, reinstating the Roadless Rule allows me to continue to take visitors from around the world to experience an intact ecosystem filled with salmon, wildlife, and old-growth forests — not clearcuts. It’s no wonder Juneau gets more than a million visitors a year.”

Teague Whalen, owner and operator, Tongass Teague:
“There are two uncompromising realities for the survival of life on this planet: clean air and clean water. My hiking tours into the Tongass begin at the literal end of our road, where the Roadless Rule reinstatement will ensure that the Tongass can continue to be a lasting carbon sink.”

Stephen Van Derhoff, owner, Spirit Walker Expeditions:
“We are elated — literally floating on the news that the Roadless Rule is being reinstated in the Tongass. As we kayak, hike, and camp our way through this incredible ecosystem, we're thankful for its protection and stewardship — and grateful for the opportunity to share the wilds of Southeast Alaska with guests from around the globe.”

Andy Moderow, Alaska director, Alaska Wilderness League:
“We applaud today’s announcement, because it recognizes that Southeast Alaska’s future is rooted in sustainable uses of the forest. The Roadless Rule protects Tongass old-growth while also providing flexibility for community access, hydropower projects, utility connectors and other economic development projects when they serve a legitimate public interest.  This decision puts public lands and people first, and we are grateful for the action.”

Patrick Lavin, Alaska policy advisor, Defenders of Wildlife:
“Protecting the Tongass National Forest is an important step in recognizing the role of our forests in fighting the biodiversity and climate crises. Today’s action helps restore responsible stewardship in the Tongass, as demanded by an overwhelming majority of people during the public process. We look forward to working with the Biden administration to similarly protect older forests and wildlands across the nation.”

Kate Glover, senior attorney, Earthjustice:
“We applaud the Forest Service for making good on its commitment to tribes and to the climate by restoring the Roadless Rule across the Tongass. This is great news for the forest, the salmon, the wildlife, and the people who depend on intact ecosystems to support their ways of life and livelihoods.”

Ellen Montgomery, Research and Policy Center Public Lands campaign director, Environment America:
“After eagerly awaiting this announcement, we’re overjoyed that full roadless protections have been restored to the Tongass National Forest. Our largest national forest provides critical habitat for countless birds, salmon and its ancient trees absorb staggering amounts of carbon. The roadless area, 9.2 million acres, has been protected from logging since 2001. Thanks to the Biden administration, this critical forestland will have continued protection for decades longer. Now that this Trump era rollback has been restored, it’s time for the Biden administration to move to increase protection from logging for all old and mature forests across the entire country.”

Hallie Templeton, legal director, Friends of the Earth:
“We are proud to stand in victory alongside our Alaskan neighbors and other partners. Today marks yet another reversal of Trump-era attempts to gut conservation policies in the name of profits. Our message is loud and clear: we won’t allow such lawless behavior. We will keep watching and fighting in the name of conservation and environmental justice.”

Garett Rose, staff attorney, Alaska Project, NRDC:
“The Forest Service deserves a lot of praise for today’s move. The region’s Native peoples depend on this vast wildland, and the public overwhelmingly wants it protected. The Tongass is a refuge for animals that are endangered in other places, not to mention five species of salmon. We need to keep old-growth forests like these intact all around the globe—and soon—to sharply reduce carbon emissions. A key next step for the Biden administration would be protecting mature forests across all federal lands here in the U.S.”

Alex Craven, senior campaign representative, Sierra Club:
“The Tongass is often referred to as ‘our nation’s climate forest’ for its ability to store carbon and protect us from the worst impacts of climate change. Thanks to today’s reinstatement of the Roadless Rule in Alaska, millions of acres of this valuable ecosystem will once again be protected – as will its supply of clean water, critical wildlife habitat, and carbon stores. We are proud to stand with Indigenous leaders and local Alaskans who have been championing the effort to restore these critical protections.”

Meredith Trainor, executive director, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council:
All of us at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and across Southeast Alaska are celebrating today’s announcement. This long-awaited decision by the Biden administration will protect over 9 million acres of Tongass National Forest Land for years to come. Hundreds of thousands of Alaskans and Americans wrote, lobbied, rallied, and petitioned for the National Roadless Rule to stay in place on the Tongass, and thanks to the Biden administration and leadership from Southeast Alaska’s Tribal communities, we have finally succeeded. Today’s win is the work of hundreds and thousands of hands and voices, all lifted up to protect this most precious place that we love - the Tongass National Forest.

Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph. D. Chief Scientist, Wild Heritage:
“The Tongass' towering old-growth rainforests are tops among all national forests, and its roadless areas are 16% of the nation's total. Even more impressive is this single national forest, the nation's largest, stores the equivalent of 20% of all the carbon in the entire national forest system, making it North America's best nature-based climate solution. What a glorious decision for Alaskans and all those that care about a safe climate and our natural legacy.”

Meda DeWitt, senior specialist, Alaska, The Wilderness Society:
“This is a long-awaited victory for the Tongass and for the Tlingit people. Through the leadership of the Indigenous peoples of Southeast Alaska, we have made our voices heard and will see over nine million acres of ancestral homeland and invaluable old-growth forest protected from harmful development. While we are grateful to the Biden Administration for taking decisive action in reinstating the 2001 Roadless Rule, we must continue to listen to the voices of Southeast Alaska and ensure that this forest is protected for the preservation of culture and future generations to come.”

Osprey Orielle Lake, executive director, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN):
“After years of collective advocacy, we are celebrating this decision to protect the Tongass Rainforest and our global climate. Old-growth and mature forests are vital to climate mitigation, and we must take action to support protection of all old-growth forests like the Tongass, while we particularly listen to the leadership of Indigenous peoples when their forest homelands and territories are under attack. We look forward to the Tongass remaining protected for current and future generations, and to uplifting Indigenous leadership.”

Ted Zukoski, senior attorney, Center for Biological Diversity:
“What a fantastic day for the old trees of the Tongass, Southeast Alaska communities, wildlife and our climate. We're in the midst of climate and wildlife extinction crises and the Tongass is a lifeline for our planet. The wild, mature and old-growth forests on the Tongass are carbon-storing champions that are worth more standing. It’s crucial that the Biden administration is stepping up to protect them from logging.”

Background

In October 2020, the Trump administration canceled application of the nationwide Roadless Rule to the 9 million acres of Southeast Alaska’s 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest it previously protected. The public submitted nearly half a million comments during the federally required public process The Forest Service analyzed a subset of the comments, finding 96% supporting keeping the Roadless Rule in force on the Tongass, and only 1% supporting the exemption ultimately selected by the Trump administration.

Originally adopted in 2001, the Roadless Rule is one of the most significant conservation measures adopted to protect the national forests of the United States. Applicable nationwide, it prohibits industrial logging and most road-building in intact areas of the national forest system, with a few exceptions. Alaska’s Tongass National Forest was protected under the national rule in 2001, but was exempted first under the Bush administration and later under the Trump Administration. Today’s decision puts the Roadless Rule back in place across the Tongass, protecting its nine million acres of roadless areas from logging and road-building.

On June 11, 2021, the Biden administration announced it would “repeal or replace” the so-called Alaska-specific Roadless Rule.

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