USDA to restore conservation safeguards and invest in sustainable economic development in Southeast Alaska
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership celebrated today’s news that the Forest Service will pursue a new management approach for 9.2 million acres of public land in Southeast Alaska that will prioritize the region’s biggest economic engines, local values, and overwhelming public opinion.
Pairing the restoration of conservation safeguards with new, robust investments in the region’s economic development, the decision was welcomed by local communities and various stakeholders as a balanced solution that promises a sustainable future for a region widely regarded as some of the richest fish and wildlife habitat in Alaska. Among other things, USDA’s new strategy will reverse of one of last year’s biggest conservation setbacks and ensure that the Tongass National Forest will remain an iconic hunting and fishing destination.
“Today’s development marks a major step toward restoring conservation safeguards and shifting to more sustainable forest management practices on the Tongass National Forest,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We appreciate this leadership by USDA, and look forward to the timely reinstatement of the Roadless Rule on the Tongass, which will conserve some of Alaska’s most productive fish and wildlife habitat while also allowing for community development projects and cultural uses.”
Roadless Rule protections were rolled back in 2020 despite overwhelming public opposition to the exemption.
The USDA is anticipated to outline several key steps it will take moving forward:
- The FS will start the process to repeal the Roadless Rule exemption and reinstate full protections under the 2001 Roadless Rule.
- The Tongass NF will end large-scale old-growth timber sales, but will allow Alaska Natives and small-scale operators to continue limited old-growth harvest.
- $25 million in new funding will be dedicated to community development projects that enhance recreation, restoration and resilience, including climate, wildlife habitat, and watershed improvements.
“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 watersheds within the Tongass,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s exciting to see the Forest Service invest in new strategies that align with the values and priorities of rural Alaskans. The TRCP is committed to helping 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 Credit: Ben Matthews