First step toward restoring safeguards to roadless areas in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest
Hunters and anglers commended an announcement that the U.S. Department of Agriculture intends to “restore or replace” the previous administration’s decision to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule.
The Tongass exemption, which was finalized in October 2020, stripped conservation safeguards from more than 9 million acres of public lands in Southeast Alaska, despite overwhelming opposition from Alaskans as well as sportsmen and sportswomen across the nation. Today’s announcement confirms that the decision-making process used to justify the exemption was flawed and begins the process of restoring the management framework.
“Today’s announcement is welcomed by a majority of Alaskans and more than 250,000 Americans who vocally opposed last year’s extreme decision to fully exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The TRCP thanks USDA Secretary Vilsack for taking the first step toward restoring conservation safeguards to some of Southeast Alaska’s best fish and wildlife habitat. We urge USDA and the Forest Service to swiftly reinstate the conservation measures that have served the Tongass well for 20 years.”
The Tongass National Forest encompasses nearly 90 percent of the southeastern panhandle of Alaska. Some of the nation’s most productive watersheds for salmon rearing and fishing are located within roadless areas of the forest. Eliminating the Roadless Rule in the Tongass made more than 9 million acres of undeveloped forests available to industrial logging and road construction, undermining some of Alaska’s largest salmon fisheries and potentially impacting vital habitat for Sitka black-tailed deer, black and brown bears, and moose.
Earlier this month, nearly 70 hunting- and fishing-related groups, national brands, and local businesses signed a joint letter calling on the USDA to move quickly to reinstate roadless area safeguards in the Tongass. From gear manufacturers and media companies to guides, outfitters, and retailers, the letter emphasized the importance of sustainable forest management on the outdoor recreation economy.
By the Forest Service’s own analysis, repealing the Roadless Rule was expected to have only a “minimal beneficial effect” on the region’s diminished forest products industry, and at a significant cost to taxpayers. Instead of focusing on cutting critically important mature forests, conservation groups have urged the decision makers to manage the Tongass with an emphasis on second-growth forest management, an approach that would support local jobs and forest health.
“The industries that contribute the most to Southeast Alaska’s economy—such as commercial fishing, recreation, and tourism—rely on the conservation of our remaining old-growth forests and pristine watersheds within the Tongass,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s time we help the Forest Service manage the Tongass in a way that conserves vital fish and wildlife habitat, allows for sustainable second growth forest management, and boosts the resiliency of our communities.”
Photo: Ben Matthews (www.bentmatthews.com)