The U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun taking public comment on a draft environmental impact statement that provides six alternatives to roadless management in the Tongass National Forest.

If the recommended alternative stands, the Tongass would be exempt from the federal government’s 2001 Roadless Rule.

On Monday, those opposing the proposed changed arrived at the Juneau federal building to deliver letters, saying the decades-old rule should remain in place.

“We hope this great showing of support in the early days of this comment period will really send a message to Washington, that people in Southeast Alaska are watching and they know what they want to see happen on the Tongass; they want to keep the national roadless rule where it is,” said Meredith Trainor of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Other alternatives being considered by USDA are:

  • Take no action and leave all of Alaska under the 2001 Roadless Rule, including the Tongass National Forest.
  • Provides regulatory protection for the majority (89%) of key watersheds inside roadless areas while designating some old-growth and young-growth acreage suitable timber lands.
  • Provides regulatory protections for all key watersheds inside and outside roadless areas while designating some old-growth and young-growth acreage suitable timber lands.
  • Restricts harvest and road-building activities in scenic viewsheds and most (88%) key watersheds inside roadless areas while designating some old-growth and young-growth acreage suitable timber lands.
  • Remove 2.3 million acres from roadless area designation, protects some (59%) key watersheds, while designating some old-growth and young-growth acreage suitable timber lands.

In a published Op-Ed provided to KTVA, Tlingit & Haida President Richard Peterson wrote several federally recognized tribal governments “pleas for respect and for justice have been ignored. 

Peterson wrote:

“ ... not a single tribal government engaged as a cooperating agency advocated for a full and complete exemption of the Roadless Rule,” he wrote.  “In a word, our tribes are reasonable in being accountable to the unique needs of each of their communities. These cooperating tribes cannot help but believe the entire process has repeatedly disrespected and ignored sovereign tribal nations and their tribal citizens.”

Sen. Lisa Murkwoski, R-Alaska, has been on the frontline of this issue in Washington. She agrees with the USDA’s choice for a full exemption, a position she’s long advocated.

Murkowski said the exemption would help stimulate the economy, an argument she got published in the Washington Post with an Op-Ed.

“The roadless rule has hurt the timber industry, which now consists of just a handful of small, family-owned forest products companies,” she wrote in the Op-Ed, which was later provided to KTVA. “It also affects mining, transportation, energy and more. But it is critical — and only fair — to acknowledge that lifting the roadless rule would not automatically result in the development of more of the forest."

New projects in areas where development is allowed would still have to secure all relevant federal approvals, including compliance with the Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan, the National Environmental Policy Act and other applicable laws such as the Clean Water Act.

 The Forest Service said it plans to hold public meetings. The public has until midnight Dec. 17 to submit comments.

Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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