Bad news if you care about fish, wildlife and wild places: the president, governor and our members of Congress in Alaska support opening up 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest to old-growth logging and road building by removing the Tongass from the Roadless Rule.
The situation gets even worse when one considers that if that exemption goes through and the Tongass no longer benefits from the conservation measure of the Roadless Rule, a new Tongass Land Management Plan would likely have to be created and the fish-and-wildlife-friendly “Tongass Transition” will be scrapped.
Let us back up to explain fully what this means for our fish and wildlife.
Thanks to thousands of comments from Southeast Alaskans and others who care about the forest, the Forest Service updated the Tongass Land Management Plan (TLMP) in 2016. The process was lengthy, expensive and sometimes contentious but the end-result was a Forest Plan that protected high value fish and wildlife habitat that accommodated logging and had widespread public support. This is where the aforementioned “transition” comes into play.
In 2010, the Forest Service announced it would reduce old growth timber harvest on the Tongass while increasing the harvest of second or young growth timber. This shift was coined the “Tongass Transition” and like the 2016 Forest Plan, it was the product of a great deal of public input and was broadly supported by folks in Southeast Alaska.
Essentially, the 2016 Forest Plan provided the terms for which the Transition would be implemented. So, for what was perhaps the very first time ever on the Tongass, we had commonly held goal (prioritizing fish and wildlife and the growth of their associated industries!) with a framework established for how to achieve it. Although no one flew a “Mission Accomplished” banner across the stern of an aircraft carrier, there was a general sense the infamous Tongass Timber Wars had finally come to an end.
Skip ahead 2 years. The Trump Administration accepted the State of Alaska’s petition to review the Roadless Rule in Alaska. Skip another year ahead where we’re now facing a potential full exemption from the Roadless Rule. More specifically, the administration has directed the Forest Service to list the complete removal of the Roadless Rule as the “preferred alternative” in the Draft environmental impact statement (EIS). If this moves ahead and the Roadless Rule is un-done on the Tongass, all the public process, consensus and tax-payer provided planning dollars would be flushed down the drain.
A full exemption from the Roadless Rule will require a new TLMP. All that time, energy and money that went into the 2016 Plan (including many of your comments) will have to expended yet again, just three short years later.
If the Transition to a sustainable young growth harvest regime isn’t scrapped altogether it will most certainly be extended to the point it will become meaningless—as long as politicians continue to clear the way for more old-growth harvest, Tongass timber operators will get in line for it. They have no motivation to change, adapt or innovate when they continue to get government hand-outs.
Governor Dunleavey began his time in Alaska as logger on the Tongass back in the 80’s, Senator Murkowski grew up in the region during heyday of clear-cutting old growth trees and mashing them into pulp.
However, the reality is, an exemption from the Roadless Rule will not create another single logging job on the Tongass. In fact, according to a cost-benefit analysis performed by the Congressional Budget Office, an exemption will only serve to reduce the amount of money outfitters and guides and tourism businesses stand to make each season.
All these political attempts to turn back the clock makes me nostalgic for 2016. The only way we get back to that is to defeat the proposed exemption to the Roadless Rule! Anyone can comment using our online form here. We encourage you to take a moment to customize your comment and explain why Roadless Areas on the Tongass (or Chugach) National Forest is important to you.
Nov. 4-14: check out the list of communities where the Forest Service will be holding meetings on the Roadless Rule. We encourage you to attend and ask questions.