Delegation: Tongass Exemption Will Help Build Sustainable Economy in Southeast Alaska

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, today issued the following statements after the U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) published a Record of Decision (ROD) and final rule exempting the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule).

“The Tongass is home to many Alaskans who want what most Americans take for granted—the opportunity to live, work, and raise their families in the communities in which they grew up,” said Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “A full exemption from the Roadless Rule means access to more affordable and renewable energy to power homes and schools, access to technology at a time when more Americans are logging online for health care and education, and access for transportation and recreation to promote jobs and economic activity in the region—all while ensuring continued good stewardship of our lands and waters. I thank the USDA and Forest Service team for recognizing that one-size-fits-all federal policies are not appropriate in Alaska, and sometimes simply do not fit at all.”

“Alaskans in Southeast have seen their opportunity to harvest timber, advance vital renewable energy and mineral projects, build basic infrastructure and connect communities stifled for too long as a result of the 2001 Roadless Rule,” said Sullivan. “These opportunities are finally back on the table with the finalization today of a full exemption for the Tongass from this overly-burdensome and out-of-touch regulation. I will always fight to take control from bureaucratic D.C. agencies and put it into the hands of Alaskans who rely on our lands to make a living and understand intimately the important balance of conservation and local economies. I commend Secretary Perdue and the administration for working closely with Alaskans throughout this process and bringing us to this historic day.”

“This is a great day for the State of Alaska, our economy, and Alaskans' right to govern themselves,” said Young. “For years, I have said that the one-size-fits-all Roadless Rule was a disaster for Alaska. This Congress, I have been working closely with the President and senior White House staff to secure a Roadless Rule exemption for the Tongass. Not only has the Roadless Rule put an unconscionable economic and social burden on Southeast Alaska, it also violates ANILCA and the ‘no more’ clause by locking up land from the people of Alaska. Today's ROD is incredible news for our state and our economy, particularly in Southeast. I want to thank the Administration for working with me, our Congressional Delegation, Governor Dunleavy, and, most importantly, for listening to Alaskans. We know that this is the right thing to do, both for our economy and the health of our forests. I very much look forward to lifting the Roadless Rule and unleashing our state’s full potential. In Congress, I will always stand up for our right to manage our own lands.”

In 2018, the Forest Service announced it would develop a state-specific Roadless Rule focused on the Tongass National Forest. The final rule issued today exempts the Tongass from the 2001 rule, which established sweeping prohibitions on road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvest on inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands. The new rule responds to a petition from the State of Alaska requesting a full exemption from the 2001 rule for the Tongass, which the delegation strongly supported.

The Tongass spans nearly 16.7 million acres, covering nearly all of southeast Alaska, and is home to 32 islanded communities. For decades, successive layers of federal law and regulation, including the 2001 rule, have continually restricted access needed for timber, mining, tourism, recreation, and the development of renewable resources such as hydropower. The result has been a weaker regional economy that is largely seasonal in nature, with local communities facing fewer employment opportunities and higher energy costs. 

The ROD and final rule represent a major milestone in the delegation’s efforts to restore balance and provide greater flexibility in federal land management, including roadless management, on the Tongass.

Protecting the unique roadless values within the Tongass has always been a priority and will not change under this new rule. Congress has enshrined those protections in law, designating nearly 5.7 million acres of wilderness and another 728,000 acres that are to be managed in a roadless state. When combined with national monument and other natural-setting land-use designations, more than 13 million acres (nearly 80 percent) of the Tongass are already explicitly restricted from resource development or required to be managed as roadless areas.

Excerpts from the Forest Service’s Announcement

“The Tongass Forest Plan along with other conservation measures, will assure protection allowing roadless area values to prevail on the Tongass National Forest while offering additional flexibility to achieve other multiple-use benefits.” 

“Although 9.4 million acres would no longer be subject to the 2001 Roadless Rule with the final rule, only 186,000 more acres would become available for timber production, and road construction is estimated to increase Tongass-wide from 994 miles in the no-action alternative to 1,043 miles in the final rule over the next 100 years.”

“From 2001 to 2011, the Tongass National Forest was exempt from the 2001 Roadless Rule. During this time, about 4,300 acres of [inventoried roadless areas] were entered for timber harvest and about 19 miles of roads were constructed in association of that timber harvest. Of that only 300 acres of timber harvest and 0.5 miles of road were authorized during the exemption period and the remaining timber harvest and road construction were authorized prior to the promulgation of the 2001 Roadless Rule.”

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