Delegation Welcomes Draft of Tongass-Specific Roadless Rule

Preferred Alternative Would Provide Needed Access to Largest National Forest

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young, all R-Alaska, today issued the following statements after the U.S. 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. 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,” Sullivan said. “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.”

“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. 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 amendmend, 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,” Young said.

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 32 islanded communities. For decades, successive 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 weaker 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.   

The draft rule will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, October 18, 2019 opening a 60-day public comment period that will close on December 17, 2019. Additional information on the rule will be made available on the Forest Service’s website.

Additional Background

  • Murkowski hosted Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, whose department includes the Forest Service, in southeast Alaska in July 2018. During his trip, Perdue heard directly from community leaders about the need to have a working forest that allows for multiple use to build a stronger, more sustainable economy in southeast Alaska.
  • Murkowski hosted Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen in southeast Alaska in July 2019, which allowed Christiansen to see firsthand the challenges presented by a “one-size-fits all” Roadless Rule.
  • Last month, Murkowski wrote an opinion piece published in the Washington Post outlining a few of the many reasons why the Tongass should be fully exempted from the 2001 Roadless Rule.