Alaska Delegation Responds to Biden Administration Actions to Suppress SE Alaska’s Economy

Vilsack Takes Steps to Repeal Alaska Exemption to Roadless Rule

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young, all R-Alaska, today issued the following statements after the Biden administration published its Agenda of Regulatory Actions calling for repeal of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) final rule published in October 2020, “Special Areas; Roadless Area Conservation; National Forest System Lands in Alaska;” to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Rule. 

“In Southeast Alaska, where the Tongass makes up the vast majority of the land base, the one-size-fits-all Roadless Rule has restricted access needed for tourism, recreation, timber, mining, transportation, and the development of renewable energy. Any action to repeal the final rule and reimpose the roadless rule will cost jobs, diminish income, keep energy prices high, and cripple the ability of the communities in the region to develop a sustainable, year-round economy. Alaskans believe the roadless rule is burdensome, unnecessary and since its inception have called for the Tongass to be exempt from it,” said Senator Murkowski. “The Trump administration, through the Forest Service and USDA, put considerable work and effort into the final rule and now the Biden administration is literally throwing it all away. We need to end this “yo-yo effect” as the lives of Alaskans who live and work in the Tongass are upended every time we have a new President. This has to end. I will be using every tool at my disposal to fight back on the administration’s latest action. It’s time we move forward, utilizing the Tongass land management plan and all the other applicable environmental laws to guide new projects and activities and provide long overdue regulatory certainty to the region.”

“There they go again: another misguided decision by the Biden administration that ignores the interests of Alaska working families and reasonable access to our lands, and instead sells out Alaska to the agenda of extreme environmental groups who have no interest in promoting economic opportunities in our state,” said Senator Sullivan. “I raised the importance of this issue in my meeting with Secretary Vilsack during his confirmation process, and I am deeply disappointed that neither he nor anyone in his agency reached out to us before announcing this unilateral decision. Every governor and congressional representative from Alaska–Democrat and Republican–has supported repealing the Roadless Rule for the last 25 years. The Biden administration’s announcement is an unacceptable whipsaw in federal policy just months after an exhaustively-reviewed final rule was issued by the Trump administration that struck the right balance between conserving the lands we cherish and fostering opportunities for hard-working Alaskans. The Biden administration needs to recognize that Alaskans in Southeast—like any Americans—have a right to connect their communities, sustain local economies, build renewable energy projects, and responsibly harvest resources, all of which is imperiled by a return to this unnecessary and overly-burdensome regulation.”

“This is a very sad day for the State of Alaska. Rolling back the hard-fought Roadless Rule exemption is not only a devastating attack on our state's economy, but also shows a terrible disregard for Alaskans' right to govern themselves. Our fellow Americans across the Lower 48 enjoy the opportunity to live, work, and prosper in their communities. They can do this in large part because of the energy and economic opportunity available to them. Alaskans in the region are only asking for the same opportunities to thrive. Repealing the Roadless Rule exemption pulls out the rug from beneath families in Southeast and puts affordable energy, fully-funded schools, and quality health care further out of reach,” said Congressman Young. “I want to say I am surprised by this Administration's decision, but it is entirely predictable given that Secretary Vilsack's office lies over 4,000 miles away from the Tongass. To the Secretary, I say this: 'Come to Alaska; visit Southeast. Before making a decision on behalf of my constituents, experience the tremendous social and economic burden the Roadless Rule has imposed on them up close.' The COVID-19 pandemic has already harmed our economy, and today's decision is yet another nail in the coffin for economic opportunity in Southeast. I call on President Biden to reverse this decision so that future Administrations stop using the Roadless Rule as a political football; the very livelihoods of families hang in the balance.”

The Tongass exemption is needed to restore balance in federal management on the Tongass. Currently, 91 percent of the Tongass is either Wilderness, Wilderness National Monument, or Inventoried Roadless Areas—meaning only 9 percent of the Tongass is available for any kind of development.

In 2018, the Forest Service announced it would develop a state-specific Roadless Rule focused on the Tongass National Forest. The Alaska-specific rule, adopted in October 2020, exempted the Tongass from the one-size-fits-all 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.

On January 20, 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order requiring the USDA to review the final rule exempting the Tongass National Forest from the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (Roadless Rule). On February 1, 2021, the USDA issued a memo effectively pausing implementation of all pending programmatic and project land management decisions.