The draft Alaska Roadless Rule undermines collaboration and creates long-term uncertainty
The U.S. Forest Service today released a proposal that would eliminate conservation safeguards for 9.2 million acres of roadless public lands in Alaska.
The agency issued the proposed rule for the Tongass National Forest after the president instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to roll back an 18-year-old limitation on timber harvest and road building within certain backcountry areas of the iconic forest.
“For years, sportsmen and women have been calling for a lasting solution for Alaska roadless areas that would conserve valuable fish and wildlife habitat and provide certainty for local communities that depend on the balanced use of these public resources,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Yet because of direct intervention from the White House, we are facing conservation setbacks within the Tongass that will affect more than half of the world’s largest temperate rainforest.”
Roadless areas within the Tongass National Forest, which have long been managed under the direction of the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, provide vital habitat for salmon and Sitka blacktail deer. They also provide outstanding opportunities for hunting and fishing that support a strong tourism economy and are important for subsistence.
In January 2018, the state of Alaska petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow for the development of a state-specific roadless rule. Many hunting and fishing groups and businesses demonstrated a willingness to collaborate and support such a rule if a durable, good-faith compromise could be reached. One such solution was within the range of proposed options recommended by the Citizens Advisory Committee chartered by Governor Walker and is the path supported by a strong majority of Alaskans.
Yet the possibility of a broadly supported, long-term solution that is good for Alaska was all but eliminated this past summer when the White House intervened after an off-the-record meeting with Governor Dunleavy, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service were directed to propose the most extreme option.
“If implemented, today’s proposal would lead only to more conflict over the future of these lands, harming local communities and everyone’s interests over the long haul,” says Fosburgh. “We encourage the administration to right this ship, and we ask for leadership from the Alaska congressional delegation to shape a long-lasting outcome for the Tongass that brings people together.”
Last fall, the TRCP asked sportsmen and women to urge the Forest Service to support safeguards for Alaska roadless areas. In March 2019, the TRCP also warned against weakening conservation in roadless areas in Utah.