Alaska's Congressional delegation is praising the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service for signing a memorandum of understanding that starts the rulemaking process to develop an Alaska-specific Roadless Rule.

The agreement with Alaska initiates a process to write an Alaska-specific version of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Since 2001, when the Clinton Administration finalized the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, or Roadless Rule, it has limited road construction in certain areas of national forests, but Alaska's representatives in Washington say it's a "one-size-fits-all" approach that doesn't work for Alaska.

At almost 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest is the country's largest. It's home to Sitka spruce, cedar and western hemlock among other species.

Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, along with Congressman Don Young say federal regulations like the Roadless Rule impact access to timber, mining, and renewable energy development, and mean a weaker economy for Southeast Alaska. In a statement Thursday, the three say they are ready to work to promote responsible resource development.

“As I have said many times before, the Roadless Rule has never made sense in Alaska. I welcome today’s announcement, which will help put us on a path to ensure the Tongass is once again a working forest and a multiple-use forest for all who live in Southeast,” Murkowski said. “I thank Secretary Perdue for recognizing the need for economic relief in these communities, and look forward to continuing to work with the administration, state officials, Sen. Sullivan, and Congressman Young to see this process through to the finish line.”

“I welcome this first step to set forest management and the economy of Southeast Alaska back on track,” Sullivan said. “The Roadless Rule as applied to Alaska doesn’t work—it doesn’t work for our timber or mining industries and it doesn’t work for hydro and other renewable energy development either. As even the Supreme Court has recognized, Alaska is different. I am glad the Forest Service is committed to work with the State of Alaska and the people affected by its policies to create a more workable regulation that can provide for responsible development.”

“I have always maintained that the roadless rule does not work in Alaska. It not only violates ANILCA, but it has made the timber industry in Southeast Alaska difficult to sustain,” Young said. “This one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t account for Alaska’s unique history and geography. I thank Secretary Perdue for his leadership and look forward to continuing to work with him, as well as my colleagues in Congress, to ensure Alaska’s national forests are properly managed.”

The Audubon Society, however, says the agreement puts the state’s old growth forests at risk.

“Over half of the big old trees have been cut in Southeast Alaska, and the Roadless Rule is key for protecting what is left,” said Susan Culliney, Policy Director for Audubon Alaska. “The Tongass National Forest is just beginning to implement a transition away from the unsustainable practice of old-growth clearcutting, and we fear the Roadless Rule modification could be the thread that unravels the entire Tongass Land Management Plan.”

The move by the Forest Service comes about a month after Agrigulture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited with Murkowski on Prince of Wales Island. During his time there, the Perdue heard from locals about why they need a multiple use forest.

The next step is to publish an intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement in the Federal Register this summer. That will allow local stakeholders to weigh in on the rulemaking process.

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