Alaska-Specific Roadless Rule
Alaska is finally on the verge of much-needed improvements to the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, better known as the Roadless Rule.
In January 2001, the outgoing Clinton administration imposed this sweeping federal regulation on millions of acres of national forests across the country. The rule established permanent prohibitions on road construction, road reconstruction and timber harvesting. Over the years, it has significantly restricted access to forest lands and worked against the economic opportunities that local communities need to survive and prosper.
Alaska, with two national forests, the Tongass and the Chugach, has been hit particularly hard by the Roadless Rule. The Tongass has more than 9.7 million acres of inventoried roadless areas, while the Chugach has 5.4 million acres. Taken together with designated federal wilderness areas, that means nearly 93 percent of the Tongass and 99 percent of the Chugach are off-limits to development.
In southeast Alaska, where the Tongass makes up the vast majority of the land base, the Roadless Rule has led to a substantial loss of access for the timber, mining, transportation, tourism, recreation, and renewable energy industries. In combination with further restrictions under the Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan, the Forest Service’s regulatory regime has cost jobs, diminished incomes, kept energy prices high, and even led to population losses in some communities as residents are forced to look elsewhere for stable, year-round work.
Senator Murkowski believes the Roadless Rule should never have been applied to Alaska. She believes it makes no sense for the Tongass, the nation’s largest national forest, which is the size of West Virginia, equivalent to 52 national forests in the eastern United States, and home to 32 islanded communities intermingled with Forest Service lands. She recognizes the ongoing harm the rule has brought to southeast communities, and is pursuing both legislative and administrative options to repeal and improve it.
In Congress, Senator Murkowski has introduced legislation and sought to add language to appropriations bills to exempt Alaska from the Roadless Rule. She also supports an administrative path that has been initiated by the State of Alaska and the Forest Service to develop an Alaska-specific Roadless Rule.
The administrative process began with a State petition from Governor Bill Walker. After entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the State, the Forest Service is now undertaking an Alaska-specific rule, in line with those already in place in Idaho and Colorado. Governor Walker also issued an Administrative Order to form the Alaska Roadless Rule Citizen Advisory Committee, which consists of 13 voting members drawn from stakeholder groups and industries.
The scoping and public comment period for this rule is now well underway. The Forest Service has held public meetings in Juneau, Ketchikan, Hoonah, Craig, Angoon, Point Baker, Tenakee Springs, Wrangell, Sitka, Petersburg, Yakutat, Kake, Anchorage, and Washington, DC.
Senator Murkowski is committed to reforms that will allow Alaska’s forests to be working forests. She urges Alaskans to engage in this process and is encouraging the Forest Service to ensure it fulfills its requirements for consultation with Alaska Natives.