Back in 2001, President Bill Clinton signed into law a piece of legislation called the Roadless Area Conservation Policy. The policy banned construction of new roads in undeveloped areas in some of the country’s wildest places. The “roadless rule” as the policy is known, meant that more than 44.8 million acres across 37 states were off limits for new road construction. The idea was that additional resource extraction (timber, mining, energy) required new roads, so, no new roads, no new extraction. It was a measure meant to protect wilderness areas. Places like Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
But the USFS and the state of Alaska are now partnering in an attempt to exempt Alaska from the current roadless rule to replace it with something a bit more friendly to industry. Their eyes are set on Tongass’s 16.7 million acres—the country’s largest national forest—in southeast Alaska. The Tongass is a wild place, Alaska write large, with a healthy population of bears, salmon, and old growth forests.
Specifically, the USFS wants to examine “management solutions that address infrastructure, timber, energy, mining, access, and transportation needs to further Alaska’s economic development, while still conserving roadless areas for future generations.”
Alaska’s governor, Bill Waker, and the US Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, and Senator Lisa Murkowski all support the plan to look into the economic benefits of opening areas of Tongass to new roads, logging, and mining.
According to the USFS Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, Perdue and Walker “agreed to pursue a state-specific roadless rule to address the concerns as swiftly as possible on the Tongass National Forest and the access for timber, energy development and many other forms of access on the Tongass.”
For years, timber interests and environmental groups have waged court battles over the roadless rule being applied to Tongass. Back in September of 2017, a US district court judge ruled that Tongass should remain closed to new roads, at the time a major blow to Alaska’s hope of revitalizing the timber industry in Tongass, once an important source of income for the state. But the USFS’s decision to examine new possibilities for the region might change that.
You have the chance to weigh in. The USFS just announced that they’ll be holding a series of 13 public meetings throughout Southeast Alaska, as well as in Anchorage, and Washington, D.C. (details on dates on cities here).
If you’d like to comment online, you can do so here through October 15.
The USFS hopes to make a final decision on whether or not to open Tongass by 2020.