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.
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.
Clear cut logging the Tongass’ old-growth trees affects fish, wildlife and the landscape on many levels, and that is why the Roadless Rule should stay in place on the Tongass.
In less than 10 days the U.S. Forest Service could release its final decision and fully repeal the Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest. Speak up today and tell federal decision makers that you want the Roadless Rule intact on the Tongass.
Keeping track of efforts to save the “Roadless Rule” in Alaska has been complicated.
But if you value public lands and wild salmon - and the jobs, cultures and recreation they sustain - you’ll want to tune in. The Roadless Rule in Alaska’s National Forests could be overturned in 2020, putting places we as Alaskans hold most dear at risk.
Watch our new video to see what’s at stake this year for the Tongass National Forest.
The gist of it? 90% of communities within Southeast Alaska spoke up in favor of the Roadless Rule. They said they want safeguards for their backyard forest, the Tongass.
Despite this, Alaska’s Governor Dunleavy and President Trump made deals behind closed doors that jeopardize those safeguards for Tongass fish, wildlife and recreation opportunities, and the communities that depend on them.
The decision makers we elected in Alaska are working to increase industrial clear-cut logging of old growth trees in undeveloped, wild areas of the Tongass called ‘Roadless’ areas. These logging activities are harmful to fish and wildlife, come at great taxpayer expense, and threaten the economy and way of life in Southeast Alaska—not to mention some of the best fishing on the planet.
Despite that the Roadless Rule is flexible - allowing communities within the forest to obtain exemptions for every single infrastructure, transportation, mining, and energy project that’s been proposed in roadless areas – the State of Alaska has bent over backwards to serve the old-growth logging industry in its quest to overturn the popular conservation measures.
Check out the new video below and share it with your friends and neighbors and then add your name to the letter on this page.
Roadless areas in the Tongass are what make the Alaskan “backyard” a unique treasure that is worth protecting.
We can all agree that the Tongass National Forest is America's Salmon Forest.
Today, our friends at Sitka Conservation Society released "The Salmon Forest," a beautiful video celebrating one of the few places in the world where wild salmon and trout still thrive.
When you're done watching the video, sign your name to help conserve our Salmon Forest.