In a reversal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service issued a final repeal of the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule.
The move formally reinstates the 2001 roadless rule in the Tongass National Forest, and effectively prohibits timber harvest and road construction within designated Inventoried Roadless Areas.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the decision is major loss for Alaskans.
“It’s yet another way the Biden administration is singling out Alaska,” he stated on Jan. 25. “Alaskans deserve access to the resources that the Tongass provides – jobs, renewable energy resources, and tourism, not a government plan that treats human beings within a working forest like an invasive species.”
The Tongass covers more than 17 million acres and is the largest forest in the country. More than 71,000 Alaska residents and the capital city of Juneau are encompassed by the forest.
“It marks another bitter chapter in this long-running saga, once more forcing the state and its citizens to pay the costs of near-absolute preservation.”Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor
In 2020, former President Donald Trump exempted portions of the Tongass from the Clinton-era roadless rule which had hindered industry and lead to job losses in Alaska. Biden has reversed this.
A release from the USDA justified the decision to reinstate the Roadless Rule, claiming it was critical to fighting climate change and preserving “resources of the Tongass, especially when it comes to the values that roadless areas represent for local, rural communities, Alaska Native peoples, and the economy of Southeast Alaska.”
Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor begged to differ.
“This unfortunate decision is a blow to the economic and socioeconomic development of Southeast Alaska,” he said. “It marks another bitter chapter in this long-running saga, once more forcing the state and its citizens to pay the costs of near-absolute preservation. It denies them the most basic and fundamental developments of society, which are taken for granted in nearly every other part of the country.”
Numerous environmental safeguards currently ensure that economic survival is balanced with conservation practices and resource protection.
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“Alaska’s communities and our regional needs are vastly different than the rest of the nation, and this should continue to be recognized though a common-sense management approach in the Tongass National Forest,” said DNR Deputy Commissioner Brent Goodrum. “The State’s unique and targeted exemption to the sweeping national Roadless Rule was a successful example of public policy allowing appropriate access in a small fraction of the immense Tongass. Continued access would have enhanced subsistence, energy security, recreation, transportation, resource development, and public safety in a multiple-use forest for the direct benefit of the people of Southeast Alaska.”
The former 2001 Roadless Rule remains a national, one-size-fits-all regulation that restricts opportunities for Alaskans who live and work in the Tongass region. Both the State and Alaska’s Congressional Delegation have worked over six consecutive terms of governors to exempt the Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Rule.