PRESS RELEASE: Trout Unlimited applauds important first step in restoring protections for Tongass National Forest
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
USDA finds 2020 exemption to the roadless rule undermines work to confront the climate crisis
Chris Wood, president and CEO, Trout Unlimited, firstname.lastname@example.org
Austin Williams, Alaska Legal and Policy Director, Trout Unlimited, (907) 227-1590, email@example.com
JUNEAU, ALASKA—The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that it intends to repeal or replace an unpopular 2020 Forest Service rule that allowed road construction and industrial old-growth logging in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The 2020 decision completely exempted the Tongass from the roadless rule, making more than nine million acres of backcountry lands in the nation’s largest national forest vulnerable to industrial clear-cut logging of old-growth forest, as well as costly and unnecessary road construction. The USDA said the rule undermines the country’s work to address climate change.
“We’re glad to see the Forest Service correcting such an obvious wrong,” said Austin Williams, Alaska Legal and Policy Director for Trout Unlimited. “Exempting the Tongass from the roadless rule was short-sighted from the start and opposed by a vast majority of Alaskans. It’s long past time to end clear-cut logging of old-growth forest, which damages important critical fish and wildlife habitat, costs taxpayers many millions of dollars, undercuts tourism and fishing jobs, and hampers our ability to fight climate change.”
More than 96 percent of all public comments opposed the “Tongass Exemption” and supported keeping roadless area protections. Dozens of prominent outdoor businesses from Alaska and across the nation sent a letter just last week calling on the USDA to reinstate the roadless rule. A statewide 2019 poll commissioned by Trout Unlimited found the majority of likely voters in Alaska opposed efforts to repeal the roadless rule and strongly supported efforts to protect salmon, wildlife, and high-value salmon streams in the Tongass.
“It makes no sense in the wealthiest nation in the world for us to cut another stick of old growth,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Our national forests are extraordinarily valuable to local communities, fish and wildlife, and our economy. They help regulate our climate and clean our air and water. It’s time to look forward and manage our forests with these values in mind. This is a good step to get things back on track.”
Decades of unsustainable clear-cut logging and rampant construction of logging roads in the Tongass have a legacy of more than 1,100 bridges and culverts that fail to meet state or federal standards for fish migration and impede fish from accessing nearly 250 miles of habitat.
“The Tongass produces more salmon than all other national forests combined. Today’s announcement is the first step toward ensuring that continues, and that the fishing and tourism industries, which account for more than one in four local jobs, will continue to drive southeast Alaska’s economy,” Williams added.
Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization, is dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams, so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local, regional, and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy waters and vibrant communities. 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
Few decisions have been as short-sighted as last year’s repeal of the Roadless Rule on Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which helps explain why 96 percent of all public comment opposed the repeal.
When large-scale logging first took hold in the region in the 1950s, many people thought the towering Sitka spruce and ancient red and yellow cedar of the Tongass were inexhaustible, and few people understood the impact industrialized clear-cut logging would have on the region’s fish, wildlife and, of course, its people. But, today, we know we can only take so much from the forest and that unchecked old-growth logging takes too heavy a toll.
Recognizing this, in 2013, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack directed the U.S. Forest Service to phase out unsustainable old-growth logging on the Tongass and to manage the forest with its fish, wildlife, recreation and carbon-capturing values at the forefront.
Today, Trout Unlimited is joining dozens of fishing, hunting and outdoor businesses in calling on Secretary Vilsack to keep that promise.
We now know that the real value in the Tongass is not derived from cutting down its trees, but in its abundant fish and wildlife, its scenic beauty, its potential to store and capture carbon that helps offset the effects of climate change, and in the opportunities and cultural values a healthy forest provides for local communities.
Without streamside vegetation to provide shade and help moderate streamflow, high summer temperatures cause fish kills with alarming scale and frequency. Clear-cut logging and logging roads destabilize steep hillsides and too often result in landslides during the rainy season—such as those that ravaged southeast Alaska last fall.
Although the logging industry was once a major source of economic activity in Southeast Alaska, logging and milling now account for less than 1 percent of local jobs, a level maintained only because of significant government subsidy. Fishing and tourism, by comparison, generate 26 percent of local jobs and have become the dominant sources of income and employment in the region.