Murkowski, Sullivan: Tongass is a National Forest, Not a Political Football

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska) today released the following statements after the USDA Forest Service finalized its repeal of the Tongass National Forest’s exemption from the 2001 Roadless Rule. Today’s decision reinstates the 2001 rule, ignoring requests from the State of Alaska and data and analysis from the last administration that supported the 2020 exemption.

“The Roadless Rule should never have applied to the Tongass, and the Biden administration’s decision to reinstate it is federal paternalism at its worst. Roughly 80 percent of the Tongass is already protected through existing law, land use designations, and the forest planning process, and there is no threat of large-scale development from timber harvesting or any other activity,” Senator Murkowski said. “With this decision, the Biden administration is turning the Tongass into a political football, where access changes with each new President and creates whiplash for those who might want to invest or build in Southeast Alaska. We should see this for what it is: a regulation in spite of reality that will only serve to make it take longer, cost more, or outright impossible to develop the limited infrastructure—including renewable energy—necessary for a sustainable regional economy.”

“The Biden Administration has now unleashed 42 executive orders or actions targeting Alaska and the economic well-being of our citizens. No other state in the Union is getting such targeted and unwanted attention from the Biden administration. I have repeatedly called on President Biden for a ceasefire in his war on Alaska’s working families, but to no avail,” said Senator Sullivan. “Alaskans in Southeast—like any Americans—have a right to connect their communities, sustain local economies, build renewable energy projects, and responsibly harvest resources. But the Forest Service’s return to the overly-burdensome 2001 Roadless Rule totally undermines all of those. My message to hard-working Alaskans who are being crushed and utterly disregarded by this Administration: I will fight this and other Biden Administration anti-Alaska actions with everything in my power.”

The Tongass National Forest 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 Roadless Rule, have continually restricted access needed for timber, mining, tourism, recreation, and the development of renewable resources such as hydropower.

Separate and apart from the Roadless Rule, the Tongass is well protected under existing law. Some 80 percent of the forest is already conserved in Congressionally-designated Wilderness, National Parks and National Monuments, or other natural setting land-use designations—meaning only ten percent of the Tongass is available for any kind of development.

(Click here to read the opinion piece that Senator Murkowski wrote for The Washington Post in 2019 explaining why the Roadless Rule is unnecessary.)

In 2018, the Forest Service announced it would develop a state-specific Roadless Rule focused on the Tongass. The Alaska-specific rule, finalized in October 2020, exempted the Tongass from the one-size-fits-all Roadless Rule, which established sweeping prohibitions on road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvest on inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands beginning in 2001. The 2020 rule came in response to a petition from the State of Alaska requesting a full exemption for the Tongass, and helped restore balanced management and reasonable economic prospects within the Tongass.