Biden administration begins overhaul of Roadless rule for Tongass

Tongass National Forest near Wrangell, Alaska, 2016 (Creative Commons photo by Rob Bertolf)

The Biden administration on Friday announced the start date of its formal process to restore the Without road Rule that protects approximately 9 million acres of Tongass National Forest.

“Restore the Tongass” without road The protections support the advancement of economic, ecological and cultural sustainability in Southeast Alaska in a way that is guided by local voices, ”said US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in a statement.

Successive Alaska governors have opposed the roadless rule since the Clinton administration implemented it in 2001. It has been a recurring situation since then, with legal and political battles coming into play.

The most recent boost came last year when the Trump administration exempted the Tongass from the rule.

Now Vilsack, who oversees the Forest Service, is once again calling for a recovery. He says a two-month comment period will be his first step in reinstating the no-road rule. And it’s a similar announcement to the one made earlier this year that the Trump-era rule would be reversed.

“I’m not sure how many times Vilsack may announce the same thing and that it sounds like news,” said Juneau’s attorney Jim Clark, who coordinated a legal effort with some local governments and resource industries to preserve the Tongass exemption from Roadless. To reign.

He says the rhetoric around the old-growth rule protections is overdone.

“All this new exemption would do is open 168,000 acres to harvesting timber that was not previously open,” he said Friday. “You wouldn’t know that by listening to the news you think all Tongass is going to be clear cut. “

And it is true that while the rule change could affect over 9 million acres, less than 170,000 acres would be old timber that could be harvested under the current exemption.

Alaska State case dismissed by Federal Court of Appeal

Governor Mike Dunleavy has ordered the state to join a lawsuit by the resource industries. But the Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit earlier this week, saying last year’s Roadless exemption was still in effect and the case was moot. But the governor’s office says the fight is not over.

“I would expect a very large and vigorous response to efforts to control Alaska from Washington, DC,” said Governor General Randy Ruaro, a native of the booming former city of operations. Ketchikan Forest. He told CoastAlaska on Friday that the Biden administration’s freeze on older timber sales ignores existing laws that direct the forest service to make the timber available to the industry.

“We challenge the secretary’s discretion to arbitrarily decide from Washington, DC not to follow these federal laws and impose the no-road rule on the Tongass,” Ruaro added.

But opinion polls and the public record of the hearings show healthy support for the roadless rule both inside and outside Alaska.

In the southeast, it has advocates for growing non-extractive industries like commercial fishing and tourism. And tribes whose traditional lands lie in what is now Tongass National Forest have also spoken out against the Trump administration’s retreat both in hearings and in court records.

Tongass commercial logging impacts livelihoods

This is because the legacy of clearcutting and other developments conflicted with the hunting and fishing traditions of rural residents.

Don Hernandez chairs the Regional Federal Livelihood Advisory Council. He has spent hours collecting testimonials on Roadless.

“It had become quite evident over a long period of time that the areas of Tongass that were most significantly affected by past logging were all suffering from damage to subsistence uses,” he said from his home. from Point Baker, on the northern edge of Prince of Wales Island.

Hernandez is a commercial fisherman living on the southeastern island of Alaska which is almost completely covered with federal forests. He says the council heard loud and clear that people were concerned about the increase in ancient logging.

“And extending this to other areas of Tongass that people rely on for their livelihoods just was not going to be acceptable,” Hernandez said.

For federal decision-makers, the Tongass are seen less from the point of view of the conservation of hunting and fishing grounds than as a bulwark against climate change.

Value of Tongass National Forest as a carbon sink

Ken Rait of Pew Charitable Trusts, who worked on the rule of roads under the Clinton administration in the 1990s, says the Biden administration recognizes that forests must be kept intact to sequester carbon.

“And you know, there’s nowhere in the United States where it’s more important than the Tongass National Forest,” said Rait of Portland, Oregon. “And so the decision is the right one for the Tongass, but it is also the right one for the nation as a whole.”

Alaska’s resource extraction industry and many elected officials are complaining that red tape will further lock federal lands into energy and mining.

But Rait says there are safeguards in the rule. The Forest Service can – and issues – exemptions for projects of public interest. More than two dozen to date have been shredded, he says.

“The view that this is a general rule that will prevent any development from happening on the Tongass has simply not been borne out by the history of this problem,” Rait said.

It is still unclear exactly how the Biden administration plans to reverse the Trump administration’s policies, said Clark, who served as chief of staff to former Governor Frank Murkowski, another vehement critic of Roadless Rule.

“It’s just a situation where we have to wait and see what the administration is actually doing,” he said.

On November 23, the Biden administration rolled out its plan to bring back the roadless rule. If the latest go-around is any indication, it will be a long, drawn-out affair as it took over two years to exempt the Tongass from the rule.

During those hearings, the federal government said more than 95% of people nationwide supported keeping the no-road rule in place.

The Trump administration canceled it anyway.

A 60-day comment period will begin on November 11. 23, 2021 with the publication of a repeal proposal for Alaska 2020 Without road To reign.

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