WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts today expressed disappointment that the U.S. Forest Service is advancing a regulation to exempt the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The proposed decision was made public in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which the Forest Service released late yesterday, and would allow commercial timber operations and construction of new logging roads in the most pristine areas of the nation’s largest national forest.
The Forest Service is moving to finalize the plan despite the fact that more Alaskans support forest protection than oppose it and that nearly a quarter of a million people from across the country submitted comments objecting to the plan. The Forest Service also has not yet responded to requests from 11 Southeast Alaska tribes to sustain protections for lands that Indigenous peoples have lived on for thousands of years.
The Roadless Area Conservation Rule conserves more than half of the Tongass National Forest, including old growth forests and important salmon habitat, and was designed to reduce the growing costs and destructive impacts of road construction, which damages ecosystems and costs taxpayers millions of dollars.
Ken Rait, project director for U.S. public lands and rivers conservation at Pew, issued this statement:
“The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, one of the landmark public land conservation policies of the last century, protects some of the most rugged backcountry in the national forest system. The Forest Service’s proposal to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the rule would open more than 9 million acres of intact temperate rainforest to industrial development, adversely affecting the ecology of a forest that has stood for thousands of years and provides important habitat for abundant wildlife—including rivers that host all five species of Pacific salmon, the economic backbone of southeastern Alaska communities.
“Americans already pay $30 million annually to subsidize commercial logging operations on the portion of the Tongass not covered by the roadless rule. This proposed decision would increase the costs to taxpayers by opening the most remote areas of the forest to clear-cutting.
“The Tongass is a global gem. Once these pristine forests are gone, they’re gone forever.”