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Congressional Delegates Applaud Tongass Roadless Rule Draft, USDA Seeks Public Comment

Oct 16, 2019 | Monitor

WASHINGTON, DC and JUNEAU – US Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Representative Don Young, all R-Alaska, issued the following statements after the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (Forest Service) announced the release of its draft Roadless Rule for the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska.

“I’m very pleased the administration has listened to Alaskans and is proposing a full exemption from the Roadless Rule as its preferred alternative,” Murkowski said. “I thank President Trump, Secretary Perdue, and the team at the Forest Service for their hard work to reach this point—and for their continued efforts to restore reasonable access to the Tongass National Forest. This is important for a wide array of local stakeholders as we seek to create sustainable economies in Southeast Alaska.”

“I welcome the decision by Secretary Perdue and President Trump to include as the preferred alternative a full exemption for Alaska from the Clinton-Era Roadless Rule,” Sullivan said. “As Alaskans know well, the Roadless Rule hinders our ability to responsibly harvest timber, develop minerals, connect communities, or build energy projects to lower costs—including renewable energy projects like hydropower, all of which severely impedes the economy of Southeast. I am grateful that the Forest Service is committed to work with the State of Alaska and the people affected by its policies to create a more workable regulation that can provide for responsible economic activities to provide for Alaskans living in Southeast.”

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“I sincerely thank Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and President Donald Trump for their continued commitment to protecting Southeast Alaska’s economic viability for years to come,” Young said. “Moving forward with the EIS process is the critical next step in lifting this rule for good. I have always said that the Roadless Rule should have never been applied to Alaska, and by pursuing its amendment, this Administration has once again proven their commitment to putting people and their livelihoods first. I am optimistic that this decision will allow for proper management of the Tongass to provide opportunities for tourism, fishing, and wildlife viewing as well as mining, energy development, and timber. The U.S. Forest Service has a multi-use mandate for its lands that includes a timber harvest, and defending this mandate is key to ensuring that Alaska is entrusted to Alaskans.”

In 2018, the Forest Service announced it would develop a state-specific Roadless Rule focused on the Tongass National Forest. The Alaska-specific rule would amend the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which established sweeping prohibitions on road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvest on inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands. The new rulemaking came in response to a petition from the State of Alaska requesting a full exemption from the 2001 Roadless Rule for the Tongass.

The Tongass spans nearly 16.7 million acres. It covers nearly all of Southeast Alaska and is home to thirty-two islanded communities. For decades, layers of federal regulation, including the 2001 Roadless Rule, have continually restricted access needed for timber, mining, tourism, recreation, and the development of renewable resources such as hydropower. The result is a regional economy that is largely seasonal in nature, with local communities facing fewer employment opportunities and higher energy costs.

The administration’s proposal of a full exemption is important to restoring balanced federal management on the Tongass. Inventoried Roadless Areas comprise about 9.5 million acres of the forest. Combined with other federal protections, none of which will be affected by this rulemaking, nearly 80 percent of the Tongass is currently off-limits to most forms of development or required to be managed as a roadless area.

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Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture is seeking public comment on a draft environmental impact statement offering a range of alternatives to roadless management and a proposed Alaska Roadless Rule. If adopted, the proposed rule would exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule.

The Forest Service will publish the documents in the Federal Register. The publication will begin a sixty-day public comment period on the proposed rule, and on each alternative outlined in the draft environmental impact statement.

The draft environmental impact statement, prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act, provides an analysis of six alternatives, which are options, choices, or courses of action related to roadless management in Alaska. The alternatives range from no action to the removal of the Tongass from the 2001 Roadless Rule. The Department has identified Alternative 6, which is a full exemption, as the preferred alternative at this time. The full range of options are:

  • Alternative 1 takes no action and would leave all of Alaska under the 2001 Roadless Rule, including the Tongass National Forest.

 

  • Alternative 2 provides regulatory protection for the majority (89%) of key watersheds inside roadless areas and would convert 18,000 old-growth acres and 10,000 young-growth acres previously identified as unsuitable timber lands to suitable timber lands.

 

  • Alternative 3 provides regulatory protections for all key watersheds inside and outside roadless areas, creates a community priority roadless designation that allows for recreational development and timber sales under 1 million board feet, and would convert 76,000 old-growth acres and 14,000 young-growth acres previously identified as unsuitable timber lands to suitable timber lands.

 

  • Alternative 4 restricts harvest and road-building activities in scenic viewsheds and most (88%) key watersheds inside roadless areas and would convert 158,000 old-growth acres and 15,000 young-growth acres previously identified as unsuitable timber lands to suitable timber lands.

 

  • Alternative 5 would remove 2.3 million acres from roadless area designation, protects some (59%) key watersheds, and would convert 165,000 old-growth acres and 17,000 young-growth acres previously identified as unsuitable timber lands to suitable timber lands.

 

  • Alternative 6 (preferred) would exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule and is fully responsive to the State of Alaska’s petition. The alternative would remove all 9.2 million acres of inventoried roadless acres and would convert 165,000 old-growth acres and 20,000 young-growth acres previously identified as unsuitable timber lands to suitable timber lands. Conservation of roadless values would be achieved through other means, including the Tongass Land Management Plan. This is specific to the Tongass National Forest. The Chugach National Forest would remain under the 2001 Roadless Rule.

 

The Forest Service is scheduling a series of public meetings and subsistence hearings. A list of those meeting locations will be available on the Alaska Roadless Rule project website.

The public has until midnight Alaska time on December 17, 2019, to submit comments on the documents. The documents are posted in the Federal Register and on the agency’s Alaska Roadless Rule website.

There are multiple ways the public can submit written comments once the notice is published:

Web: www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=54511

Email: [email protected]

Mail: USDA Forest Service, Attn: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, Alaska, 99802

Fax: 907-586-7852

In-person delivery to Forest Service, 709 W. 9th Street, Room 535B, Juneau, Alaska 99801

Written comments will help inform USDA as it moves toward a final decision about an Alaska-specific roadless rule. The Secretary of Agriculture is expected to make a final decision by June 2020.

The Tongass stretches over the 500-mile-long Southeast Alaska Panhandle and covers 80 percent of the land. It is rich in natural resources and cultural heritage. Developed areas cover about 8 percent of the land.

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