By Austin Williams
When you think about your favorite remote fishing or hunting trip, a wild landscape where large trout, wild salmon or big game are plentiful, or breathtaking scenery where you can get away from it all, the odds are good you’re thinking of a roadless area.
Roadless areas are strongholds for vulnerable fish and wildlife, sources of clean drinking water, and contain many sacred sites and traditional use areas. As we come to better understand the role of mature forests in sequestering and storing carbon, it’s clear roadless areas also are essential to mitigating impacts from climate change.
The Roadless Area Conservation Act can Safeguard Cherished Lands
On the twentieth anniversary of the U.S. Forest Service first enacting the Roadless Rule, Senator Cantwell and Representatives Gallego and DeGette have announced they are introducing the Roadless Area Conservation Act. If passed, this legislation would solidify safeguards for more than 58 million acres of our national forests by preventing unsustainable old-growth logging and costly logging road construction. Collaboratively developed state-based solutions for roadless area management in Idaho and Colorado would remain, while the wildly unpopular Alaska exemption would be reversed.
The bill allows fishing and hunting, outdoor recreation, forest health projects and wildfire fighting, energy development, and even certain off-highway vehicle use. Trout Unlimited is excited to support this important and much-needed legislation.
Communities, Fish & Wildlife on the Tongass Stand to Benefit
In southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the roadless rule.
For decades prior to its enactment, unsustainable clear-cut logging mowed through ancient old-growth forest at an alarming and unsustainable pace. Sprawling clear-cuts spanned entire landscapes, from the ridgetops to river bottoms, with logging roads haphazardly crisscrossing the landscape. Salmon and salmon streams were an afterthought, if not completely taken for granted.
To this day, we’re still struggling to clean up the mess on the Tongass. Poorly built logging roads divert entire streams and block salmon migration, clearcuts extend onto perilously steep slopes and cause landslides that smother salmon spawning areas, previously logged forest grows back so dense and stunted it no longer supports wildlife, and agency budgets are stretched to the breaking point trying to keep up with the cost of maintaining more than 5,000 miles of dilapidated logging roads. Today, roads on the Tongass contain more than 1,100 bridges or culverts that fail to meet state or federal standards and block salmon from migrating to 250 miles of stream—with very little funding available to fix the problems.
While the Roadless Rule has succeeded in preventing timber sales from extending into new and previously undisturbed roadless areas on the Tongass, old-growth logging still occurs with frequent and costly consequences.
Change is Needed Now
Just last year, the Forest Service tried to hold its largest old-growth timber sale in decades (23,000 acres) before a court ruled the sale illegal. In November, the Trump Administration took things even further and repealed the Roadless Rule entirely on the Tongass, removing protections for more than 9 million acres despite an astonishing 96% of public comment opposing the change, along with local Tribes, affected businesses, and hunters and anglers. Even when viewed purely through an economic lens, repealing the Roadless Rule and perpetuating costly and highly-subsidized logging on the Tongass is bad for business.
With so much at stake, and on such a momentous anniversary of the Roadless Rule, please take a moment to appreciate the wild and undisturbed roadless areas on our national forests.
And a special thanks to Senator Cantwell, Representatives Gallego and DeGette, and the many other cosponsors in Congress of the Roadless Area Conservation Act for helping reinstate roadless area protections on the Tongass, solidify their protections throughout the rest of the country, and for ensuring our legacy of safeguarding our public lands remains strong.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Austin Williams, Trout Unlimited, (907) 227-1590 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Forest Service to repeal roadless areas protections on the Tongass National Forest
JUNEAU, AK — An announcement expected tomorrow by the U.S. Forest Service says the agency will repeal the Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest, opening previously-protected lands containing rare, old-growth trees to industrial clear-cut logging and construction of expensive and highly-subsidized logging roads. Removing the Roadless Rule from the Tongass is the most extreme of six alternatives considered by the Forest Service.
The move comes despite overwhelming public comment in support of the rule (see page 2) and its long-standing protections for fish and wildlife on more than 9 million acres of the Tongass.
“Make no mistake, this decision is all about opening up old-growth forest to clear-cut logging in an effort to prop up an outdated and highly-subsidized logging industry,” said Austin Williams, Alaska Director of Law and Policy for Trout Unlimited. “Renewable energy, community infrastructure, mining, and transportation projects would have proceeded under any of the six alternatives considered. This decision only makes sense if your primary goal is to clear cut more old-growth forest.”
The Forest Service reports every single project proposed in a roadless area in Alaska had been granted an exemption and allowed to move forward, typically within a matter of weeks. These projects include mining projects, energy and utility projects, transportation roads, and community infrastructure development. (see page 6).
In public meetings on the proposed repeal last fall, southeast Alaskans overwhelmingly testified in opposition to the repeal. Nearly all the testimony reiterated the importance of the rule’s benefits to local fisheries and related jobs.
“Communities, fish, wildlife, tourism, subsistence, and recreation have thrived in the Tongass with the Roadless Rule in place, and it’s a disgrace to see logging special interests win out over the wishes of Alaskans and the long-term health of the region,” said Williams. “Fish, wildlife, and recreation are the future for southeast, not some half-baked plan to give away and cut down the best remaining stands of old-growth forest.”
The Tongass produces more salmon than all other national forests combined, and supports fishing and tourism industries that account for more than 26 percent of local jobs in the region. Science shows clear-cut logging pollutes streams, and harms salmon and deer populations. More than 30% of all instances where Tongass roads cross fish streams (1,120 crossings in total) fail to meet state or federal standards for fish migration, impeding salmon and trout from nearly 250 miles of important spawning and rearing habitat.
The record of decision will be noticed in the federal register Thursday.
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization. In Alaska, we work with sportsmen and women to ensure the state’s trout and salmon resources remain healthy far into the future through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau. Learn more about our work to conserve key areas of the Tongass National Forest at www.americansalmonforest.org
by Austin Williams, Trout Unlimited Alaska's Director of Law and Policy
My introduction to the Tongass was as a Forest Service employee on Prince of Wales Island—where industrial logging’s heyday was its most intense and most severe. I’ve slogged through more than my fair share of clear cuts—where logging stretched onto such steep slopes it caused landslides that caved into and smothered salmon spawning streams, where roads were constructed and maintained so haphazardly they diverted entire streams out of their natural channel, and where once-cut landscapes grew back with stunted trees so dense the forest was entirely uninhabitable for wildlife like deer. One memorable logging road I surveyed was so derelict it failed to have a single functioning culvert despite crossing numerous salmon streams.
More than 96% of public comments on this proposed decision favored keeping the roadless rule in place. See Page 2. In some Alaska communities, every single comment submitted to the Forest Service wanted roadless areas protected. Tribes, small business owners, hunters and anglers, subsistence users, scientists, and people from all walks of life spoke up in favor of fish, wildlife, beautiful scenery, and for putting an end to unsustainable clear-cut logging of our best remaining old-growth forest.
Recognizing how unpopular clear-cut logging of old-growth forest has become, some individuals have taken to claiming this decision isn’t about logging at all. Don’t buy what they’re selling.
Atop the list of exciting projects in store for Alaska are trail, cabin and campground projects. These recreation infrastructure projects are all desperately needed on the Tongass. A sample of what’s included for National Forests in Alaska include: Yakutat Cabin Maintenance, Juneau Ranger District Strike Team, Pack Creek Trail Reconstruction and Thayer Lake Shelter Repairs, and the El Cap Recreation Area improvements.
For Southeast Alaskans, marine access and transportation for guiding, fishing, hunting, subsistence, and getting to and from other communities is essential. GAOA funding will be used to address deferred maintenance issues on multiple docks and marine facilities, gangways, pads and piers throughout the Southeast Alaska region.
As you know, an alarmingly large number of the culverts and bridges on the Tongass fail to meet applicable standards for fish passage. More than 30% of all instances where forest roads cross fish streams on the Tongass—1,120 instances in total--fail to meet applicable standards for fish migration and disturb fish access to nearly 250 miles of salmon and trout streams! Poorly maintained or degraded forest roads make travel difficult or dangerous, increase erosion and degrade nearby streams, block fish passage and migration, and are expensive to maintain. This is one of the main reasons we are excited about road improvements being added to the priority with new GAOA funding.
It’s no surprise that outdoor recreation and recreation access is on the rise and continues to be one of the most important public services provided by the Forest Service. We are excited about the variety of maintenance and infrastructure projects that are planned for the Tongass.
We're excited to tell you about an amazing new project we have been working on!
This Thursday, we will launch a short-film telling the story of ongoing work to find undocumented - thus unprotected - wild steelhead in the Tongass National Forest. ANADROMOUS WATERS, will be released as part of Trout Unlimited's "Science Week," and we have plenty of online events leading up to it.
History of the Project:
Trout Unlimited has worked to increase the number of officially recognized anadromous streams by using community science – going to select Tongass 77 watersheds and surveying the area for steelhead.
Join us next week as we share this amazing story of discovery and what comes next.
Follow us on Instagram for daily event updates: America's Salmon Forest.