Forest Service Moves to Open Development in Alaska Roadless Area

News for Immediate Release
Sept. 28, 2020
Contact: Katie McKalip, 406-240-9262,
mckalip@backcountryhunters.org

Despite overwhelming public opposition, Tongass National Forest’s salmon fisheries,
big game habitat face industrial development

JUNEAU, Alaska — The U.S. Forest Service released its final environmental impact statement for the Tongass National Forest on Sept. 24, advancing efforts to repeal roadless protections in the United States’ largest national forest and the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest.

In 2018, the Trump administration formally embarked upon a rulemaking process to develop an Alaska-specific version of the national Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which currently guides management of 58.5 million acres of backcountry national forests. Dismissing an overwhelming number of comments from hunters, anglers and Alaskans urging the Forest Service to maintain roadless protections, the administration caved to pressure from development interests, and roadless areas in the Tongass are now poised to be opened to projects including industrial clear-cutting of old-growth forest.

Of the 1.6 million comments submitted by Alaskans and others during the original roadless rulemaking process, 95 percent supported strong roadless area protections. Ninety-six percent of the public comments received in the recent rule-making process indisputably reinforce public support, begging questions about the administration’s motivations to proceed with dismantling roadless area protections for the Tongass.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and other partners worked to advance a balanced conservation alternative during the rule-making process that would have supported limited community infrastructure development while including new roadless protections for the Tongass 77, forest lands and waters critical to salmon production and other wildlife species.

“Just as historic conservation victories are being heralded in the wake of the President Trump’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act, hunters and anglers are being blindsided with the administration’s plans to eliminate backcountry protections for pristine Alaskan fish and wildlife habitat,” said BHA Conservation Director John Gale. “The Tongass National Forest encompasses some of our most valuable, unsullied and intact public lands, and roadless areas play a critical role in sustaining the value of the Tongass to fish and wildlife populations, sportsmen and women, and subsistence communities across southeast Alaska.

“The Tongass is an economic mainstay of Alaska, driven not only by hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists but also by business owners and native communities that rely on sustainable management of the wild places that put food on their tables,” Gale continued. “If finalized, this rule would represent one of the most significant setbacks for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife Alaska has seen in decades. These actions will compromise the integrity of our most valuable backcountry landscapes and erode the public trust in favor of short-term financial gains for logging and extractive industry executives.”

BHA members in Alaska expressed concerns about developing these backcountry public lands.

“Axing the Roadless Rule is like having someone break into your house, rob you, trash your living room then tell you they’re doing you a favor,” said Bjorn Dihle, of Douglas. “As a lifelong resident of the Tongass Rainforest, who’s hunted, fished and made my living directly from the land and the sea, I know that few things are more important than protecting our old growth forest so future generations can have good hunting, fishing and economic opportunities.”

Balanced resource extraction, including thousands of miles of logging roads, already exists in the Tongass. The pretense of removing roadless protections to facilitate more development is irresponsible at best. Every one of the more than 80 projects formally proposed for Alaska’s roadless areas has been granted an exemption facilitating infrastructure development that includes new roads, energy and utility projects, and new mining.

“Outdoor recreation cannot be ignored as a substantial economic driver for the state of Alaska, as well as for the country as a whole,” said Heather Kelly, a member of BHA’s North American board and owner of Heather’s Choice, who lives in Bird Creek. “The critical component for the continued growth of this industry is access to public land and wide open spaces. I would encourage our decision-makers to seriously consider the potential economic impact (and sustainability) of facilitating more outdoor recreation instead of extraction as a money maker for the state of Alaska.”

The 9.3 million acres of Tongass National Forest inventoried roadless areas comprises habitat for a unique diversity of sought-after game species, including mountain goats, black-tailed deer and both brown and black bears. The Tongass also encompasses thousands of miles of salmon-rich waterways, legendary among anglers and fundamental to the state’s commercial salmon industry. These valuable resources have been upheld by the Roadless Rule, a collaborative management approach that was adopted following one of the most extensive public engagement campaigns in the history of federal rulemaking.

The Trump administration is expected to release the final rule in late October.

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for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife.

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